Religion News: January 2024

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A PACEM volunteer serves a hot dinner. Submitted photo.

Tabor Welcomes Homeless Women

Later this month, a dozen or so homeless women will spend the night at Tabor Presbyterian Church. This is the first time Tabor has welcomed the women as part of PACEM’s ministry of housing the homeless during the cold winter months. PACEM began in 2003, when Charlottesville clergy wanted to find better lodging for the homeless who slept in their church doorways, in cars, behind dumpsters, and in the woods. In the twenty years since then, the ministry has grown, and with enthusiastic community support, is able to bring trained volunteers to be with the clients at night, offer laundry service for bedding, and provide resources from U.Va. Health, social services, job counseling, and a path towards permanent housing. 

Over the years, PACEM has refined the operation––which serves both women and men––so it works smoothly and makes prudent use of community resources. Recognizing that few local churches can give up their common spaces for the whole winter, PACEM brings its clients to a different location every two weeks. Tabor will provide a hot meal and a warm bed for the women during the two weeks beginning January 20. 

Kathleen Anderson, a Tabor parishioner working on the project, said that PACEM supplies the beds and bedding, delivers the women each evening, picks them up in the morning and brings them to The Haven in Charlottesville, where they find help with employment, counseling, and other resources to help them improve their lives. 

It’s a huge effort each winter, involving more than 80 congregations and other community groups, and 3,000 volunteers.

Using volunteers and church spaces, PACEM provides a warm bed and a hot meal. Submitted photo.

Typically, each night is an early night for the women, as they rise way before dawn to grab coffee and breakfast and return to downtown Charlottesville, but many of them enjoy a short musical program or games led by volunteers before lights-out. The host congregation provides a hot dinner each night, and Tabor invites all community members to prepare a meal that the women might enjoy during their two-week stay. There’s a sign-up sheet for volunteers (you don’t need to be a Tabor member to help) on Tabor’s Facebook page and on its website.

Find information about Tabor Presbyterian Church: taborpc.org. Find out more about PACEM and other ways to help: pacemshelter.org.

Growing in Faith: Lessons in Spirituality and Aging

Spiritual growth can certainly come with aging, but it’s sometimes painful, and takes some planning. That was the topic discussed in a recent “Rector’s Forum” presented by Fr. Justin McIntosh at St. Paul’s, Ivy. The forum allows the rector to explore topics of interest to the congregation by inviting experts and asking them questions, with a time for the congregation to ask questions, too.

The Rector’s Forum at St. Paul’s is a dialogue between St. Paul’s leadership and local experts on topics of interest to the community. Submitted photo.

Joining him for the discussion was Dr. Ed Piper, a retired professor and minister. Piper has also presented short courses locally on the subject of aging and spirituality, including one that guides elders through a “life review.”

“You look forward to retirement, imagining that everyone is going to remember you, and you think all your accomplishments will be celebrated for centuries, then you find you’ve been forgotten within two weeks,” McIntosh said. “How do we cope with this?”

“That’s the single most important problem with retiring,” Piper responded: “The loss of our sense of identity. People are so invested in their careers that the loss of self-worth can be a significant blow.” 

He said being part of a religious community can soften and mitigate the sense of isolation that develops when people are parted from their jobs and the workplace community. There are other challenges, too, such as how to spend your time.

“You go to the retirement party, get a watch, and the next day you wake up and realize you’re lost,” McIntosh said. “What do you do?”

The religious community can also help in this regard, Piper said, but it’s important to be part of a support network well before retirement, with a role that you find fulfilling.

Dr. Ed Piper talked about “Growing into Faith” at a December Rector’s Forum. Submitted photo.

McIntosh asked if this perhaps raises the question of whether we may be investing too much of our identity in our jobs.  

“Our culture is one that emphasizes achievement and productivity,” Piper said. “Losing this can be a huge problem, unless we have volunteer work or some other way to contribute. You must have a group of people who know you, support you, and think you are worth something apart from your job.”

Some other cultures don’t have as great an emphasis on worldly identity, or the outcome of their actions, Piper noted. Buddhism teaches that becoming overly attached to anything can become a source of suffering, so some of our painful emotions are self-inflicted. “The idea of being able to back away and disengage ourselves, especially if we see ourselves as being a separate ego from others, is an important aspect of Christianity and Buddhism, and they both teach that we can relieve suffering by serving others. Over the years, our own failures and suffering heighten our sensitivity to the suffering of others.” 

“Hold the things of this world lightly.” McIntosh added, “It will all pass away. That’s what Buddha discovered when he went out and saw the suffering of others.”

Of course, Piper said, Jesus, the central figure of Christianity, suffered horribly. By the time we reach old age, we’ve probably learned quite a bit from our own suffering.

The life of Jesus is an ultimate example of the loss of self for the love of others, he continued. “There’s no limit to where this can take you. Again, one practical solution is to become involved in a religious community or the community at large.”

He discussed his own commitment to inter-generational service. “This provided some of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had in retirement.” He told a story, though, about when he realized the generation gap was wider than he thought.

“It all came to a head when I went on a spring break tour with kids from the Staunton and Waynesboro Boys and Girls Clubs. The purpose was to allow them to see what different schools looked like, especially if they were from families who didn’t have any exposure to college life. On our last day, I stood up in the front of a bus of 12-and-13-year-olds, and proposed we sing a rousing chorus of ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ (This song is a Black hymn from the ‘20s, based on the Biblical admonition not to hide your light under a bushel. It was often sung at rallies for civil rights.) They gave me a look that said, ‘you pathetic old man.’”

“Another one of the challenges of aging is reflecting on the authority or influence you might have once had. Why is that challenging to us? Why do we struggle to let go?” McIntosh asked.  

“We too closely identify with our ability to influence others,” Piper said. He gave some examples of giving up authority when he made the transition from being a dean at Mary Washington College to becoming a minister.

“Perhaps we can just take our skills and put them in a new context,” McIntosh proposed.

Piper agreed. “Some people say, ‘Oh, the heck with it. I’m just going to live a life of self- indulgence. But we need to take our talents and apply them to meet the needs of other people.”

They discussed ways for those who are younger to prepare for retirement, and agreed that we have a lifelong obligation to use our energy for service to other people. “Don’t wait,” Piper said. He pointed out the other losses, such as death of a partner or close friend, that will require us to move forward despite grief and loneliness. Another warning: “As soon as people know you’re retired, they will be after you to join them in their activities. Make sure that what you choose matches up with what you have to offer.” 

Both men dismissed the perception that successful aging means no physical decline. Piper used as an example an 80-year-old finishing the Boston Marathon. While impressive, “Is that really our ideal?” Appearing younger is a huge industry in our culture, he noted, but we will have more to offer if we learn to slow down, appreciate our surroundings, put our entire attention on what is in front of us. 

That’s not to dismiss the importance of being with people from different generations, McIntosh said. “One of the reasons church is so important is because it brings together people of all ages.”

Someone from the congregation asked about the idea of a “bucket list,” a concept that Piper said is not always helpful. He proposed it might be better to experience life where you really are, rather than repeating the impulses of our working lives, where the emphasis was always on achievement. 

He also suggested that those wanting to honor the good works, however small, of their elders, find a way to do it while they’re still alive, rather than waiting for a memorial service.

Retirement is the time to think differently, Piper concluded. It’s not the time, for instance, to try to take over a board of directors. And one final piece of advice when dealing with younger generations: “Be a supporter, not an advice giver.”

The Rector’s Forum is open to the public throughout the fall, winter, and spring seasons. To see a complete list of topics, go to stpaulsivy.org/learn/adult-formation/rectors-forum/. 

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