In 1983, the General Assemblies of the two Presbyterian Churches (North and South) made the decision to reunite. As part of that reorganization, an office on Older Adult Ministry was added to the structure of the Presbyterian Church (USA) at its headquarters in Louisville. In May of 1990, with great excitement, I was called to serve in that office.
Upon my arrival in Louisville, I met representatives from a group of about 40 older adults who were committed to ministry with, for, and by older adults. They had been involved in a project funded by Presbyterian Women in the 1980s to focus on older adult ministry in our congregations.
After undergoing training in ministry to older adults, members of the group went out to churches to lead and support the creation of older adult programs. Individuals (or couples) lived and worked at a church site for two years, focusing on the skills, needs, and commitments of older adults. The congregation provided only housing with all other expenses covered by the PW fund. After two years, when the Older Adult Ministry program in that church had been developed, the visiting person or couple would then move on to another church.
The program lasted about four years before funding ran out. These 40 individuals, trained and experienced in Older Adult Ministry, formed an organization, elected officers, and sought to continue their ministry.
The next thing that happened to this group was the inclusion of an Office on Older Adult Ministry in the new headquarters in Louisville. I suspect those older adults had something to do with that action! A few years earlier, I had received a Doctor of Ministry degree, focused on older adult ministry, from Columbia Seminary. In May 1990, much to my surprise, excitement, and, I must admit, trepidation, I was called to fill the position of Associate for Older Adult Ministry on the new staff.
The older adult group was interested in becoming an integral part of the activities of the new Office on Older Adult Ministry and I was excited to have them.
In late 1990, the group became the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministry Network (POAMN). The group’s leadership continued supporting ministries at local churches by publishing a newsletter, holding conferences, and creating an annual guide of resources.
One of the deepest joys of my life was the opportunity to work with the leaders and members of POAMN for 13 years in Louisville. We published materials every year for use in churches, retreats, and conferences. These publications included Older Adult Ministry: A Guide for the Session and Congregations and Older Adult Ministry: A Guide for the Presbytery Committee.
The office staff traveled constantly to individual churches, presbyteries, seminaries, and colleges, seeking to raise the awareness of the skills and needs of older adults in our churches.
At the end of 2003, because of financial difficulties, many of us who served in Louisville were downsized or encouraged to retire. After another two years, the Office on Older Adult Ministry closed down.
However, this was not the end of POAMN. The leaders and members of POAMN were committed to seeing the work of the organization continue, and so it did.
The ministry goes on, carried out by the officers and members of POAMN throughout the nation. They are dedicated and determined, excited and enthusiastic, to continue this effort into the future.
For 40-plus years, volunteers with POAMN have focused on training, celebrating, and expanding the vision that older adults in the church have skills to be utilized, faith to be shared, and the wisdom never to let the focus on ministry with older adults die.
God has certainly had a hand in seeing that this organization was born, was strengthened, and even now continues its ministry. All involved are committed to seeking to fill the need for ministry with, for, and, especially, by older adults.
Thanks be to God!
Dr. Miriam Dunson died October 11, 2023. She was a member of the Commerce Presbyterian Church in Commerce, Georgia. She wrote the original article on which this is based in 2016. POAMN updated it for 2023.