Moving From Ageism to Equity

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At its core, ageism is stereotyping individuals or groups on the basis of their age. However, without challenges to them, stereotypes can become the underlying basis for the policies we create, the processes we put in place, even the access and opportunities for participation we offer.

Ageism can actually become a form of Institutional IN-equity – even in the church!

Ageism is also:

  • An institutional practice that perpetuates stereotypes about elderly people based on a perception of them as being incompetent, useless, unproductive, disinterested, and undeserving;
  • A divisive ideology or action that pits generations against each other;
  • An institutional policy that legitimizes treating all older persons the same, as a homogenous group, and marginalized the elderly by restricting their participation, limiting their contributions, or ignoring (sidelining) their ideas;
  • A social justice issue!

Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. (Leviticus 19:32a)

Believing all persons are created in the Image of God, with equal dignity and worth, the Christian church can offer and promote an alternative identity narrative to that of ageism. A lens of human development that honors and includes persons with longer histories of aging views older adults as an integral part of God’s narrative and the life of the church. Older adults will be seen, and see themselves, as agents of service rather than merely the object of service.

Quick Exercise:
List where, and in what ways, your church interacts with your older adults; next to each item list whether this happens in church or in community; next list whether this item sees older adults as an “agent of service” or an “object of service.” Reflect and Discuss.

A wholesome communal ethos emerges as the faith community engages scriptural narratives in ways that inform ministries, relationships, and attitudes that directly counter stereotypes of ageism. Intergenerational projects will become commonplace as people recognize the high level of creativity that mixed-age teams can generate. In doing so, the church will be poised to change cultural perceptions of aging while creating positive environments for all.

Action Items:

  1. Use the GCORR resource, “Intergenerational Collaboration,” to decide which idea
    your church will put into action. Create a timeline that includes what you will do
    within the next week, the next month, and the next six months to make this action
    item a reality.
  2. Conduct a needs/interests/gifts survey among your church members age 65+,
    including those who reside in senior communities, assisted-living residencies, and
    nursing or rehabilitation centers. Reflect and discuss results. Brainstorm what
    ministries could emerge from the survey’s results. Choose one ministry and create
    an action plan to make one of those ministries a reality within the next six months.

Click here to download the survey

This resource is written by Dr. Arthuree Wright
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

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GCORR is building the capacity of The United Methodist Church to be contextually relevant and to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.