It was Christmas Eve, 2012. Our family had returned from our traditional, candlelight Christmas Eve communion service at First Presbyterian Church in Decatur. We had eaten a festive dinner with all the trimmings and had completed the family gift exchange with old and young (numbering13) enjoying the time together. Afterwards my son, age 29, who was in town for the holiday and I sat by the fire and finally had a chance to talk. My thoughts were of the completed meal, gifts and holiday decorations, clothes and memorable photos and having my adult children and grandchildren all together. Seemingly out of the blue he commented, “Mom, what has happened to our church? Where are all the members? There are too many nice people in that church to just let it die. You can do something about it!” His observation really surprised me, and I said something about him not being at his home church in a while. Yes, our numbers were decreasing, but membership ebbs and flows, and I was teaching a Sunday School class. Wasn’t that enough? My husband and I attended regularly, and we participated in most of the activities. Our congregation had tried to offer family activities and small group studies to appeal to younger families but the response had been minimal at best. What else could anyone do? However, my son had unknowingly planted a seed.
Not long after Christmas, some local demographic information came to my attention. To my surprise, the numbers proved that Decatur’s senior population was growing more than any another age group! Retiring senior citizens were moving to Decatur in significant numbers because of local advantages of reasonable costs of living, moderate weather, convenient traveling, proximity to metropolitan areas, access to water sports, and available entertainment for visiting grandchildren.
These facts combined with my son’s observation and perhaps Divine intervention gave me an idea supported by many others that may help our church survive. Have we been going about church development the wrong way? Instead of trying to encourage younger families to attend our church of older members, why not offer programs of study and growth activities for body and mind that would appeal to older adults? Why not embrace who we are? Even though small in number, we do have a wonderful group of caring and very active adults, who are most willing to give of themselves and to others. We offer traditional worship each Sunday, and hopefully we can be attractive to new residents in our community and perhaps even revitalize some of our own members. Thus, Senior Connection at Oak and Vine was born.
So in good Presbyterian fashion, I appealed to the Session (ruling body of the Presbyterian Church) for permission to form a planning committee and later for financial support. For the next several months this committee or ministry team as we are now called, brainstormed various programs, developed a budget, designed senior information booklets, and produced advertising brochures and fliers. In the fall of 2013, we distributed interest surveys for planning purposes and hosted several Sunday luncheons followed by programs of particular interest to seniors such as “Are you Smarter than a Cell Phone?” and “Medicare and You”. We offered a “Call Upon” service to provide transportation to events or appointments upon request. We organized a Senior Wednesday time of exercise, lunch and Bible study which has been well attended by men and women and is growing.