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by Laura Lehman Amstutz
LANCASTER, Pa.--- When 2006 Eastern Mennonite Seminary alumna Beth Jarrett took a full-time position at Neffsville Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., the position included caring for the 140 members of the congregation over the age of 70. Over the past year, Jarrett has found that they care for her as much as she cares for them.
A year ago, as Jarrett was looking at ways to work at her new position, she came across an article about a neighboring congregation, Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, which started a “Sage Club” to honor its members when they reach the 65-year mark.
Jarrett adopted that idea and adjusted it to the Neffsville church.
“I developed a team of six people - two seniors, two people who worked in retirement communities and two people who had a passion for working with seniors - to help me create a holistic program for seniors in our congregation,” said Jarrett.
Jarrett wanted not only to have a ritual to honor the “sages” in her congregation, but a way to address their needs and issues. She and her team started with a dinner gathering that encouraged these members of her congregation to continue to use their gifts in the congregation.
“One member shared her vision for a prayer shawl ministry that is now happening,” Jarrett noted. “Several people shared their gift of music with the group.”
Following this initial dinner, Jarrett called on several speakers to talk about spirituality and service. Wendy J. Miller, assistant professor of spiritual formation at EMS, addressed a group of 200 at Neffsville about spirituality in the second season of life. David W. Shenk, Global Missions Consultant with Eastern Mennonite Missions, came for a weekend and spoke about how God is using him and his wife in their retirement.
Jarrett said that by far the most rewarding activity was spending a month intentionally connecting the junior high youth and the sages in the congregation. She organized a program where each youth would interview a senior and write up a story about their lives. They would then develop a symbol and take a photograph of the senior. The stories, photos and symbols were shared in a worship service.
“The seniors were genuinely grateful to connect intergenerationally,” said Jarrett. “And it is valuable for the whole congregation to have an awareness of the wealth of wisdom and history that is available in the congregation.”
“It is eye-opening to see how many people are moving to the Lancaster area to retire,” continued Jarrett. “They are longing to feel valued and accepted and to give something to the church that they love. They are a tremendous resource.”
Jarrett is aware of the ways these sages are shaping her own ministry as well.
“Many are retired pastors or professors, and they have so much wisdom,” she stated. “They have given me insight into my own ministry and given it more depth.”
Jarrett pastors at the 603 member congregation, a member of Atlantic Coast Mennonite Conference, with her husband Harry.