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80 and Over Sunday

Service Ideas for Celebrating Older Adults

Eighty and Over Sunday” emerged in the life of a small, rural congregation I was serving. It struck me that we had a significant number of elderly in our midst—people who for years had lived their faith and shaped the life of the community. We were wanting to hold some special services to be an evangelical outreach to those affiliated with or known to the congregation but who did not regularly attend. A service and reception honoring the elderly among us seemed a good way for families and friends to reconnect in a positive, life-giving way.

We also wanted to foster an even stronger sense of community within the congregation. We are instructed to “love one another,” and this seemed a concrete way to express that as a community (John 13:34; 1 John 3:11). We are also taught to “honor one another,” and this seemed a beautiful way to honor the elderly among us (Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3–4).

The idea of different generations appreciating each other appealed to us too. Sometimes in our current North American culture there is a great divide between generations and not much contact. A service honoring the elderly offers a small opportunity to build a bridge and awareness.

Our current culture also does not truly value aging the way the Bible and other cultures do. Older adults are sometimes depicted negatively and are not part of the life of the whole, but segregated. We wanted to challenge that.

Psalm 145:4 calls one generation to laud the way God works in their lives and the world to the next generation. Here was an opportunity to tell the story of faith through living witnesses who had experienced so much.

Because we made a special effort to ensure as many as possible of our elderly could participate each year, we often combined this service with communion, and sometimes with World Communion Sunday.

Why eighty? It was a random number. Psalm 90:10 refers to the days of our lives as “seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures.” It was evident to us that the vigor that many at eighty experienced had changed by ninety.

This special service is an opportunity to thank God for the gift of life among people of multiple generations.

Pitfalls to Avoid

Don’t gloss over different stages of aging, the challenges of the elderly, the significant changes they face, and the diminishments they experience, though there are blessings that come in understanding each other differently in old age/infirmity finding new dimensions of relationships.

Don’t present old age as a negative, but as a season with its own blessings. The biblical view of aging is positive; it’s considered a great blessing. Contrast this with modern culture. How could society be structured differently so older ones are more engaged everywhere?

Ways to Include People Eighty and Over in Worship

Invite them to help plan the service—helping to choose hymns, for example.

Ask older folk to participate in worship leadership by:

  • reading
  • giving the children’s message
  • leading prayers
  • offering the blessing
  • planning the sermon in dialogue with them
  • sharing a personal reflection or testimony
  • playing instruments or singing or sharing in some way
  • singing in an older-folk choir
  • inviting special guests to help lead worship—my church asked a group of seniors who had a ministry of singing in nursing and retirement homes

Other Ways to Honor Older Folks during and after Worship

  • Serve them a meal with beautifully decorated tables and cake (perhaps having those turning eighty that year cutting the cake). Have younger families or teens serve the food and drinks.
  • If you celebrate on a communion Sunday, make sure to use the style of communion easiest for older folks to participate in.
  • Make an extra effort to arrange transportation so that all can attend.
  • Send invitations to make it a special event.
  • Provide name tags for the honored guests.
  • Perhaps offer flowers to take home.
  • Ask younger members of the congregation to make special gifts.
  • Have children or a children’s choir sing to honor the older ones, either in worship or during the meal.
  • Plan a short mealtime program led by the pastoral care minister, with prayer, some remarks or a poem, recognition of your congregation’s oldest member and/or longest member, etc.
  • Help children and young families connect with older ones.

Service Themes

We tried to pick a theme for each service that either highlighted an older person in Scripture (Abraham, Sarah, Simeon, Anna), said something specifically about aging (Ecclesiastes 3, passages from Proverbs and Psalms), or addressed themes of mutual caring.

Here are some themes we have used, with Scripture passages:

Scripture: Joel 2:28–29; Acts 9:10–19
Theme: ’Tis Not Too Late to Seek a Newer World

Scripture: Genesis 12:1–5
Theme: Finding Ourselves in a New Land

Scripture: John 15:12–17
Theme: Friends Old and New

Scripture: Ecclesiastes 3:1–8; Psalm 145; Luke 2:25–38
Theme: A Purpose for Every Season / Models for Aging Well (Anna and Simeon)

Prayers

Here are some prayers I wrote for some of these services. Feel free to use them or adapt them to fit your context.

1. Eternal God,

You are the Keeper of our days
and Creator of our times and seasons.
For every time and season,
for every matter under heaven,
You have a purpose.
Forgive us when we fail to look to you.
Help us to give you glory in all our times, in all our seasons.
We pray in the name of Jesus.
Amen.

2. Ancient of Days,

you are the One who brings us to life. You are the One who gives us time—our own time and the times we live in. Every day, every month, every year is gain for us. Every moment is an opportunity for us to reflect your glory. Your steadfast love endures forever.

Ancient of Days, you bear us up, you carry us through all that we experience in this life. When life is easy and joys abound, you are there in our buoyant step. Through trials and troubles, in our stumbling and our uncertainty
and our brokenness, You are there to steady weak knees and to mend our broken hearts. Your steadfast love endures forever.

Ancient of Days, you have led us and inspired us. You have done this through people who were themselves full of days Abraham and Sarah, Anna and Simeon, and countless others from whom we have learned what it means to live trusting in the Lord. Your steadfast love endures forever.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

Ancient of Days, we ask Your blessing on those people
in this community and in our lives who are full of days. They connect us with the generations before us and
remind us of our responsibility to the generations
to come— those generations for whom we will be ancestors.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

We ask your blessing on all who face new circumstances and changes, especially those who face these in their advanced years. Grant that they may know you are always near and always one to bring blessing.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

Help us all to look on our lives and recognize where grace has operated, not only in others but in and through us as well. Help us to celebrate and delight in any way in which we have been channels of your grace in this world.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

In silence now we each lift before you cares and
concerns we would see in your light. . . .

Silence

We lift our hearts and prayers to you, O God, trusting that you do indeed hear us and answer in your own way. All that we ask, we ask in the name of Jesus, our Lord, who taught us to pray, saying: Our Father, . . .

3. Holy God,

Ancient of Days,
Eternal One,
your life is in time, so we call you Ancient of Days.
Your life is beyond time, so we call you Eternal.

We, your creatures, give you thanks for the life you have given us and for all the days of our lives. It is your breath in us that animates our body-beings that allow us to live in the world.

We thank you for the first cries that came from our lips
and the first words we spoke. We thank you for your love and care for us in the vulnerability of our infancy and childhood and youth.

O God, we thank you for your love and care for us in the vulnerability of all of our days in what is both a wonderful, beautiful, and good world and a world full of danger for us and for our souls.

We thank you for creating us, for sustaining us, for wanting to know us—each of us—through and through.

We thank you for your coming to us in Jesus, to speak into our flesh your forgiving love and your abiding presence.

Ancient of Days, Eternal God, thank you for blessing all of our days and calling us into a love that is eternal.

We pray for our church today, especially for the ministries of our most senior members. They are still giving and serving and knowing the joy of loving in that way. They are still praying for and imagining the world to come.

We pray that in our community we may value the whole of life in all its fragility. Help us accept weakness when it comes to us and the beauty of interdependence, which is the beauty of your Trinitarian love.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

As we all grow older day by day, season by season, we pray for ourselves, that in each day we may be conscious of grace, that in each season we may be conscious of blessings.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

“We pray for those of us in the autumn time of our lives that you will make this season as lovely as this golden autumn morning has been. Help us not to look back, grieving the passing days of summer, but to recognize that of all the regal and wonderful seasons, autumn is the most brilliant. Make our autumn lives brilliant too.”

—adapted from Ruth Harms Calkin’s “Autumn Glow” in Lord, It Keeps Happening…and Happening, Pomona, CA © 1984. Permission sought.

O God, hear our prayer
and in your love, answer.

We pray for all who work in places that care for the most elderly and vulnerable among us:

those who work in retirement homes and in nursing homes,
those who are caregivers in their own homes or who tend parents or friends,
those who work in hospitals.

Grant them the presence of mind to recognize the whole person and to be with that whole person in time of need and distress.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

We remember before you today our friend (name of deceased), thankful for his life and his witness, his hope for a new creation. We pray for (spouse’s name), for their children (add names if appropriate), and for all who feel this loss deeply. We ask that hearts might be filled with gratitude and souls come to know the peace of trusting in your abiding love.

O God, hear our prayer,
and in your love, answer.

In silence now we bring burdens and cares, our own and those of the world, into your light. . . .

Silence

Praying opens us to you that your Word might live in us. So we pray now, using the words Jesus gave us, as we say, Our Father, . . .