Baby Boomer seniors meeting to create vision for active older Catholics in diocese

Seniors are much more active today and want more opportunities
By Sharon Witzell
A group of energetic baby boomers from our diocese have been meeting for several months to prepare and plan for the senior population explosion. Currently they’re working on coming up with a process to create a vision, mission, and goals for a new senior ministry for the Diocese of Wichita.
They hope to eventually generate ideas and suggestions for programs and activities from parishioners that cover the diverse needs of all ages and stages of the senior population of our diocese.
Bill Clarke, a man who is in his 80s and who writes for the Diocese of Atlanta’s Georgia Bulletin has written for years about a “the senior population explosion.”
He writes that researcher and gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, says, “Our country is rapidly aging and many social scientists believe the senior population explosion will produce the most significant social revolution in American history. It’s going to be of a significance that matches the dawn of the industrial age or the invention of the microchip.”
He goes on to say, the challenge imbedded in the senior explosion is the need to create new ministries that focus on senior issues and needs.
The new ministries must address the unique requirements of young seniors ages 50 to 60; middle seniors ages 60 to 70; older seniors, ages 70 to 80; and elders, those over 80. Each segment has unique characteristics and issues, both practical and spiritual.
Unfortunately, most churches continue to operate on traditional assumptions that seniors are quite content with a social-based ministry: replete with bingo, covered dish dinners and day trips. The new seniors believe that retirement is not the end of a prior life, but the beginning of a new one. This new life provides opportunities to do new things, gain new insights, go new places, support new causes, and meet new people.
Most seniors would rather serve than be served, Clarke writes. The new breed of senior has discovered that in giving, one gains far more than in receiving. New seniors want to pass on their experience and wisdom. Parish programs that allow participants to give time, effort, money, and energy to meaningful causes will attract new senior volunteers.
When the church recognizes and addresses the needs of seniors, he says, parishes will receive tenfold in return. It is the senior population that has the experience, the wisdom, time, talent, and treasure to help a parish address all their operational and spiritual needs.
In fact there probably isn’t anything that needs doing in a parish that could not be covered by the experience base of senior parishioners.
In summary, the senior population explosion is real. All aspects of society, including the church, must recognize and plan for the impact. If we fail to recognize and prepare for this social phenomenon, we will miss out on one of the greatest challenges and opportunities in the history of the world.
Witzell is program coordinator for diocesan Senior Adult Ministries.