Nurturing Elders and Others
Geezer Forums helpful for information and connections
By the Rev. Paul Graves
“So what is your agenda, Paul?” The woman and I never met before she asked me that question. “My agenda is whatever you want to talk about, Betty.” That’s how the first Geezer Forum got started in Sandpoint in January 2012.
Is your local church trying to think of ways to reach out to your community and involve older adults at the same time? The Geezer Forum is something I’ve invested myself in since that January afternoon. So I wanted to share it with you as a possible model that could easily be adapted to your own setting.
Our forum has become a wonderful ministry and a source of helpful information about various topics of concern to older adults. A moment of full disclosure: The Geezer Forum I host in Sandpoint, Idaho is not a ministry of the Sandpoint United Methodist Church. Rather, it is part of my consulting ministry, Elder Advocates, Inc.
Some members of our congregations are regular participants in the Geezer Forum, but it is open to persons in our general community. Yet it takes on the tone of a caring community – which is one reason the Church is in business.
The Geezer Forum grew almost naturally out of the “Dear Geezer” column I’ve been writing in our local daily newspaper since January 2009. But I wanted to invite folks into a more personal conversation about aging issues than is possible in a newspaper column.
“The Geezer Forum” seemed the right vehicle. It still seems that way. We meet on the second and fourth Wednesday afternoons of each month in a “community room” at one of our local banks.
Our first forums were no-agenda gatherings. When folks started asking to deal with topics we identified together, I began to invite “resource persons” who had some experience and expertise on those topics.
On September 24 of this year, for instance, we asked the question: “What Do I Need to Know about Medicare and the Affordable Health Care Act?” Two local health care insurance agents were our resource persons. (A year ago, we looked at the Medicare Enrollment process, again with an insurance agent.) Both times, agents were with us to share information, not to sell insurance.
We don’t always deal with issues that begin “out there” in the community. Sometimes we will focus on what is going on in our inner lives. We’ve asked these kinds of questions: “What is like for you to be old?” “How do we challenge the stereotypes of older women / older men?”
We’ve had participatory Geezer Forums on the benefits of yoga, massage therapy, and physical fitness for balance and strength. A local health club even started a “60+ Fitness” class after their fitness director led one of our forums.
We have looked at all kinds of community resources that older adults already use, or will possibly use in the future – like nursing homes, assisted living facilities—or services like home health and home care agencies. Our topics are limited only by our curiosity and imaginations.
We try to be sensitive to what is happening in our community as it relates to aging and older adults. Last May we asked the CEO of our local hospital to help us understand the significant transitions that were happening in the medical community of Bonner County – doctors retiring, the hospital developing new programs, etc. The 70 people who came made up our largest group to date.
Some participants attend based on whether they like the topic being discussed. Those who are more regular in attending have developed new friendships and found new people to care about. I count that as solid ministry.
What is your church doing to reach out to older adults with no church-strings attached? You might consider offering accurate aging-related information and authentic caring to the general community. From where I stand, it really works!
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