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EncourAGEnet

Vantage Point

Not until well into my fifties could I picture myself as retired, and the word “old” had a different feel to it; my vantage point had changed enough to allow a different view.What things look like depends a lot on where you are standing—the vantage point. “Back in the day”—in my early twenties—I had the chance to hike often in the Rocky Mountains surrounding Banff, Alberta. As you walked and looked ahead, the view was amazing. Then, once in a while, when there was a spot that allowed you to turn around to look in the other direction, it was a completely new view—a different perspective to be sure, but still breathtaking. That happened on every hike. Vantage point makes a big difference in how things look.

That same vantage point difference is true for how I have viewed retirement. “Back in the day,” those same days I was hiking in the Rockies, retirement looked distant and remote. I couldn’t yet picture myself as retired. The people I knew who were retired seemed, well, old. That picture didn’t change much through the years as I finished school, got married and had kids, and worked in various positions as a DCE in various churches and other ministries around the country.

Not until well into my fifties could I picture myself as retired, and the word “old” had a different feel to it; my vantage point had changed enough to allow a different view. Then the vantage point changed quickly with the uncertainty of a ministry position and the difficulty of finding a full time replacement position at my age. Suddenly, early retirement was the best option. Who saw that coming?

I don’t know what your experience has been, how your view of retirement has changed over the years, and how you finally got here. My guess is that it continues to evolve; the vantage point continues to change. I’m just two years into retirement now and already into my third part-time position. But this current position has me thinking more intentionally about retirement and many other topics related to being an older adult (and I see that very positively now!). On July 1, 2018, I started as the executive director of ALOA—Adult Lutherans Organized for Action. I’m sure that for some of you, that is not the name you associate with the letters ALOA. Does Association of Lutheran Older Adults ring a bell?

ALOA has been quietly active for a number of years, focused on events for older adults as well as producing and supplying ministry materials. Visionary leaders determined that to provide ongoing sources of support for congregations that enable them to be more proactive in their ministry for and with older adults, an executive director was essential. I'm excited to be that person and look forward to working with a strong and talented board of directors.

In the last ten years, my wife and I have experienced some important vantage points that will help inform my work with ALOA:

Those certainly aren’t the only topics of interest to the folks our age, but they are topics that affect almost everyone.

Discipleship

Exploring new opportunities and options will open up new doors for as long as I'm around. Discipleship doesn't have a retirement option.Strictly speaking, my ministry as a professional DCE has come to an end. But my desire to be involved in ministry has not diminished. Exploring new opportunities and options will open up new doors for as long as I'm around. Discipleship doesn't have a retirement option. As the vantage point changes, the options change, and we move on, enjoying the new view and the new ministry opportunities as a disciple of Christ.

Health and Wellness

This one affects many people. We’ve seen the whole range—right inside our own extended family—of people who lived a vital, vibrant life well into their eighties and nineties and those who lived all 20 years of their retirement in badly compromised health. My wife has been battling cancer for 27 years, and in addition, has chronic heart failure due to the classic cancer treatments. But she still signs her emails with “Its never too late to improve your health!” We like to think of it in terms of stewardship—giving God our best even in this area of our lives. I spent most of my years with Wheat Ridge leading workshops on health and wellness topics and hope to continue using those with ALOA.

Grandparenting

What a joy! And the critical role of faith formation continues even now. We hope we have played and want to continue to play a significant role in passing on the faith to our children and grandchildren. Moreover, we think other things are important to share too, our values and other important lessons of life. There are excellent resources available to help in this area, including some well-made video resources.

Caregiving and the Move from Independence to Dependence

Administrators in facilities for older adults say that most people are coming to them in crisis mode. No plans were made, and options were diminished.These two are hard to separate. “We'd like to stay in our home as long as we can.” Perhaps you’re saying this now or have heard others say some variation of that phrase. My father died suddenly, but both of Becky’s parents needed to make a transition from where they were living to some other option; the transition was not the smoothest. They both moved multiple times before they died. Administrators in facilities for older adults say that most people are coming to them in crisis mode. No plans were made, and options were diminished.

We have vowed not to leave our adult children with a similar situation. Time will tell! A congregation in California, as part of a Wheat Ridge Ministries (now We Raise) grant, put together an excellent resource that we’ve already personally used in a congregational setting: “Seniors in Transition.” We hope to add that to the ALOA resource page soon. And some members of our board of directors are professionals in the caregiving field with much to offer.

Death and Dying

It comes to all of us at some point. That vantage point is on the verge of eternity. However, for many, hard decisions still remain as they try to determine what type of care is appropriate at the end. Medical professionals are reevaluating how they engage at this stage of life as well. One of the most helpful books I've read is “Being Mortal” by Atul Gawande, a medical doctor himself. It provides a helpful look at a difficult time, in a culture mostly removed from the immediacy of death.

I hope ALOA will partner with a growing number of congregations and help them engage with the older adults in their midst to help them get or stay involved and also to find the help they need. For many congregations, that is the largest group in the pews and even in the community around them! And I’d welcome input from your vantage point. mark@aloaserves.org is a good way to connect. Check out the ALOA web site and follow the “Resource” tab, or any other tab that looks interesting. In addition, check out our Facebook page, ‘like’ it, ‘follow’ us, join the conversations, and repost what you find interesting.

Mark Schoepp served multiple churches as a DCE, toured for 20 years juggling with his family as the Fitz Family, served as director of congregation engagement with Wheat Ridge Ministries and now, in early retirement, serves as executive director of ALOA - Adult Lutherans Organized for Action. mark@aloaserves.org

Photos © iStock/Nico ElNiño, Biletskiy Evgeniy