Churches as Models: Caregiving

August 20, 2014

Early this year, the Older Adult Ministry of the Committee on New and Vital Congregations established the Churches as Models project. In her latest observations, project coordinator Jackie Finley states, “As I work on the Churches as Models project, visiting older adult programs and talking with individuals about issues of importance to them, a concern that repeatedly arises is that of family caregiving.”  While parental caregiving issues seem to hit the boomer group (50 – 69 years) most strongly,  a common bond for many members of that generation, such challenges are also felt by seniors (70-84 years) and elders (85 + years) who might be caring for spouses, siblings, or even adult children.   As we look to develop and support programs for older adults within the Conference, it is important to acknowledge that caregiving is a stress that is felt by both genders, is often lengthy in duration, can lead to unrealistic expectations, and can give rise to unexpected emotions, such as anger, confusion, and guilt. Such strain often puts pressure on relationships and impacts life quality for all involved.

Consequently, working to develop and sustain caregiving programs and workshops is often a goal for many churches with congregational and community members in caregiving roles.  The support and shared information from on-going support groups, or the educational benefits gleaned from an experienced workshop facilitator, can go a long way in lightening family member stress. 

If you’re considering offering caregiver programs, first decide what type of programs you’d like to offer and whether they would be open to only church members or to the broader community.  Support groups can be informal – an opportunity for family caregivers to gather to discuss issues, offer support, and “compare notes” – or more structured in nature. If more structured, there is usually a leader, someone with experience or training in caregiver concerns and/or group facilitation. Sometimes there is a specific topic for each group meeting, such as coping with long-distance caregiving, the differences between spousal and parental caregiving, and resolving adult sibling conflicts.  Groups can be open, where new attendees can drop in at any time, or closed, with no new members allowed in after the first session and a specific number of scheduled meetings, after which the group dissolves. Both formats have their benefits. Regardless, if you want to start a support group, do some planning to ascertain what might work best.

Caregiving workshops or classes are often a good way to provide information, support, and resources to family members. This approach is beneficial for those who don’t want the commitment of an on-going group, though often, after successful caregiving classes or workshops, informal support groups are formed to keep the personal connections alive. If you’re interested in offering workshops or classes on caregiving issues, locate teachers or workshop facilitators with experience. These are often counselors, gerontologists, medical professionals, specialists who work with older adults in a variety of capacities, and even “everyday” individuals who have experienced caregiving themselves and have the ability and desire to share their knowledge and strategies with others.

On the internet you can find numerous sites offering caregiving information and support. 
These include: