Methodist Church

Church ‘must use gifts of older adults’

NASHVILLE (Tennessee) – The world’s elderly population has nearly quadrupled in the last 50 years, and The United Methodist Church needs to find a way to use “this incredible resource”, said the Rev Rick Gentzler Jr.

The elderly population increased from 130 million in 1950 to 419 million in 2000, according to a report by the Rev Gentzler, Director of the Center on Aging and Older Adult Ministries of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.

He outlined the trends in aging that will impact the global church and society at a meeting of the United Methodist Committee on Older Adults.

He suggested that The United Methodist Church identify a modern purpose of a longer, healthier old age and seek to answer the questions: “To what use do we put the incredible resource of elderhood, and what are the new models of old age for our coming maturity?”

Two key proposals in the Comprehensive Plan for Older Adult Ministries for the 2009-2012 period include training a cadre of volunteer caregivers to interact with the growing number of older adults, and modelling intentional inter-generational ministry, in which older adults serve as mentors or coaches to young people.

From a global standpoint, the world’s population is aging at an accelerated rate due in part to declining fertility rates and improvements in life expectancy.

Over the next 14 years, the number of people over 50 in the US will grow by 74 per cent, while people under 50 will increase by only 1 per cent, according to research conducted by Mr Edwin J. Pittock, President of the Society of Certified Senior Advisers.

Sixty-two per cent of The United Methodist Church’s members are 50 years old or older, while nearly 50 per cent are 60 or older, the Rev Gentzler said.

The plan highlights the following trends that will impact the global church and society.

• More people are living longer. The population of those 65 and over will increase from 35 million in 2000 to 72 million by 2030.

• Current markers of old age are changing, which means that increasing longevity will not only postpone the arrival of old age but will also cause all of the stages of life to shift significantly.

• As people are living longer, there will be a pandemic of chronic disease, which will result in increased need for community-based services.

• Dementia is expected to increase, with Alzheimer’s disease potentially affecting 11 million to 16 million people by 2050.

• With fewer children being born and more older adults living longer, the US could experience a crisis in family care giving. Globally a growing number of grandparents are raising grandchildren.

• Increasingly, the growing cost of health care has led to discussions about limiting the health care of older adults through rationing.

• Financial insecurity brought on by challenges to Social Security and Medicare and changes in pensions could lead to a future with massive elder poverty. (Most US seniors are neither wealthy nor living in poverty.)

• Many older adults will continue to work long hours after “the normal” age of retirement because of career interests, a desire to stay productive, fear of unstable Social Security coverage, dwindling retirement investments and the fact that some simply cannot afford to retire. – United Methodist News Service.

Jeanette Pinkston is Director of Media Relations for the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.


Faithful son leaves $3m to small rural church

NASHVILLE (Tennessee) – John Ferguson was a simple man. He drove an old pickup truck, lived in a trailer without running water and kept to himself.

It came as a bit of a shock, then, when the 71-year-old farmer died and left more than US$2 million (S$3 million) to a small rural United Methodist church that his mother faithfully attended before her death in 1983.

Everyone at the church knew someday the family’s inheritance would come to the church, but no one knew how much money was involved, said the Rev Jason L. McQueen, Pastor of Hopewell United Methodist Church in Blairsville, Pennsylvania.

“We had our jaws in our laps for a couple of weeks,” the Rev McQueen said of the 80-member congregation, which learned about the gift several months after Ferguson died in January 2007. The will had to go through the probate system before money was distributed.

John’s cousin, Mr Jim Ferguson, was executor of the will, which he described as short and simple. “There was one paragraph that said everything should go to the church,” he said.

“John was very frugal. He bought $200 cars when he could have bought a new Cadillac.”

Both Jim Ferguson and the Rev McQueen have been overwhelmed by the media attention generated by the will since The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review ran a Dec 7 article on the gift. Since then, requests for interviews have come in from news outlets such as “Good Morning America”, local television stations and other newspapers.
“I know John would not have wanted all this media attention,” Mr Jim Ferguson said.

The Rev McQueen said the church plans to keep the money in investments and use only interest income for ministries. While the money is not expected to change day-to-day church operations, some church leaders are bracing to receive requests for donations.

Hopewell has formed a committee to distribute the money. One of the first needs to be addressed is restoring local cemeteries – a cause that John Ferguson was passionate about.

Another possibility is helping Hopewell become a “station” church – one that stands on its own and has its own pastor. “That dream has got a shot in the arm from the inheritance,” the Rev McQueen said. – United Methodist News Service.