From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Pastor emphasizes spiritual gifts of older people

Date 14 Feb 2001 14:16:24

Feb. 14, 2001 News media contact: Linda Green·(615)742-5470·Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE:  A photograph is available.

A UMNS News Feature
By Linda Green*

An 84-year-old United Methodist pastor says a nudge from God prompted her to
pursue a doctorate in spirituality in the aging process.

In May, the Rev. Catherine Salisbury of Pulaski, N.Y., will receive a doctor
of ministry degree for exploring a new spiritual vision of aging. She will
receive the degree from Colgate Rochester (N.Y.) Divinity School, and she
plans to use her research findings to assist United Methodists in helping
senior citizens fully participate in church life.  

Ageism and negative stereotypes of aging have diminished the church's
ministry, she says. Her goal in pursuing a doctorate was to explore the
spirituality and the positive aspects of aging. 

"Growing older is a gift from God, and we old people need to be involved in
the church," Salisbury says. "We need to stop saying, 'We've done it, now
let the young people do it.' "  

Salisbury was ordained a deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1982 and
became an ordained elder in 1985. Before pursuing a doctorate, she was the
pastor of three churches in Northern New York: Fernwood, Dugway and Altmar.
Throughout her 20 years of active ministry, she served as pastor or
associate pastor in 18 churches. She is not currently serving a church, but
she occasionally preaches at Park United Methodist Church in Pulaski and in
other pulpits as needed. 

Salisbury's college work began relatively late in life. 

"I was a grandma when I began college," she says. She was a farmer's wife
and had raised seven children before deciding that she needed a college
education. She enrolled in the State University of New York (SUNY) and
received an undergraduate degree in education.  She taught elementary school
for 16 years and retired following the death of her husband in 1978. The
grandmother of 12 and great-grandmother of 19 enrolled in The Theological
School at Drew University, in Madison, N.J., and received a master of
divinity degree in 1982.

In her ministry, she became affectionately known as "Reverend Grandma."
While she was active in church life, she observed her peers dropping out of
congregational life, she says. She saw "a need for the church and our
congregations to recognize and benefit from the presence of the rapidly
growing number of older persons in our midst."

As a result, she began researching spirituality in the aging process. "At
the age of 78, I felt a call from God to undertake the pursuit of a doctor
of ministry program and continue my research ... explor(ing) a new vision of
God's purposes in blessing so many with a healthy and meaningful longevity."
She began the doctoral candidacy process and enrolled at Colgate Rochester
Divinity School.

God's grace and advanced medical science enabled her to reach the age of 84,
and she hopes to live even longer, she says. "I envision many of my
generation accompanying me on this lifetime journey into their 80s and 90s
and beyond."  

In her quest for information to help churches benefit from older members,
she discovered that aside from a few published authors, information about
aging and spirituality was limited.  "At the time I started this, there did
not seem to be very many books out there. Most were about older adult
ministry and how we can take care of them," she says. 

She wanted to explore how faith and trust in God's promises can influence
positive attitudes toward aging. "Faith and trust in God is something that
helps us age well, and I would like the people in our churches, including
the pastors, to realize that." 

Aging well means addressing spiritual, as well as mental, emotional and
physical, well-being, she says. 

A new spiritual vision of aging for the church involves changing the mindset
of people from "taking care of these old folks ... to allowing older people
to put more dependence on faith and trust in God to have a meaningful and
abundant life, as Jesus said we should have," she says.

Salisbury believes senior citizens need to be less dependent on materialism
and secular gods to give them an edge.  This is not to say older adults need
not rely on medicine and other types of health care, she says, but they also
must trust God to help them with their needs.

Research shows that people are living longer, and the church and each older
person must find ways to make the added years meaningful, she says.

Salisbury's spiritual vision is focused on church and community leaders who
are invoking God's guidance in order to include people of all ages, races
and genders in planning and carrying out Christian ministries, especially in
the area of faith development.  

Pastors, congregations and people of all ages should be aware that
"generational inclusivity" is needed in the ministries of all United
Methodist churches, Salisbury says. An older-adults ministry means more than
providing care, she says. It means including older adults in the entire
ministry of the church.

"Too many old people have said, 'I've done my part and it is up to the
younger folk.' That is wrong. We need to live fully until the last day we

# # #

*Green is news director of United Methodist News Service's Nashville, Tenn.,

United Methodist News Service
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