A Meeting Retreat on Aging: Process and Planning

OldhandsimageBy Linda Lotz

In early spring 2012, after hearing a one-hour presentation about the Quaker Aging Resources820 project by the PYM Care & Aging Coordinator, George Schaefer and the PYM Aging Resources Coordinator, Tricia Coscia, it became clear to Friends at Haddonfield Meeting that we could benefit from a longer conversation on aging.

With the support of Worship and Ministry and the Care (of Members) Committee, an Aging Retreat Panning committee was formed which included two members of our meeting with a concern for aging and myself. Throughout the planning process, we reported to these two committees regarding our direction, plans and progress.

After agreeing to lead our retreat, entitled “Aging Gracefully,” George traveled to Haddonfield in June to help with the first Aging Retreat planning meeting. A future date in October was selected which gave us adequate time for planning and publicity. From a wide variety of topics on the subject, we decided to focus on aging and the spiritual path with an emphasis on what our meeting could do to better support our members.

An agenda for a day-long retreat was drafted.  We decided to hold the retreat on a Saturday, running from 9 to 3 p.m.  This six hour schedule works well with our members’ needs.  After some give and take among committee members and others we agreed on the following agenda:

9:00 Registration, refreshments, browsing resources;

9:30 Opening Worship, welcome from the committee, introductions, and agenda review;

10:00 Spiritual Journey Exercise;

10:45 Issues of Aging & Resources in a Spiritual context: Physical Decline, Loss and Grief;

11:30 Challenge Exercise: Physical Adaptations;


12:45 Aging-In-Place: Housing Adaptations, Alternatives; Pastoral Care;

1:45 Death & Dying: support for families; intro. Natural Undertaking & Green Burial

End-of-Life preferences survey by the Memorial & Burials Committee;

2:30 Retreat Follow-up/Next Steps for HFM and Haddonfield Quarter;

2:45 Closing Worship, announcements, and end of the retreat

The planning committee met several times leading up to the retreat to work out logistics and kept in touch with all relevant presenters and tasks. We followed the outline below to ensure that all tasks were being attended to:

• Reviewing the agenda each meeting, we identified missing topics and developed a list of announcements, ranging from directions for lunch to volunteer appreciation.

• Food included a continental breakfast; bread, salad and crock-pot soups for lunch; and fruit, chocolate, and leftovers for snacks. Preparing food ahead of time, using paper plates, and volunteer help reduced kitchen time during and after the retreat.

• Both child care and elder-care were offered; registrants were asked to inform us at least one week in advance if care would be needed. We considered how to provide both forms of care, who might help out and how to cover associated costs.

• Participants were asked to make a free-will offering to cover food costs, using a well-marked basket. People were generous, and this was appreciated.

• A resource list was prepared and resources were collected from PYM, the PYM library and the FGC bookstore. Several new books were also added to the HMM library.

• Flyers were sent to other meetings in Haddonfield Quarter and an announcement was included on the PYM website. Announcements were made at Meeting each week. We reviewed the growing pre-registration list to focus personal outreach.

• A well-placed registration table enabled us to greet everyone as they arrived, explain the building layout to guests, and collect participants’ email or mailing addresses.

• The retreat leader brought a portable public address system to assist those with hearing limitations. He and a member of our Meeting brought some instruments and led us in several songs at just the right time to boost our energies.

When the retreat happened, 30 people were in attendance including guests from six other meetings from within and beyond Haddonfield Quarter. One highlight of the day was the initial round of introductions, when people shared some of the joys associated with retiring and aging as well as frank revelations about ongoing struggles.

Among the lessons emerging from the day was the need for people – especially elders – to be honest about their situation with themselves, and with at least one person within the meeting. (If the meeting is not aware of a person’s needs, it is unable to respond.) Also, our nation’s elders are increasingly aging in place, and new systems need to be developed to assist them to remain at home as long as possible.

According to participants’ comments and responses to a questionnaire, people found the day very helpful. We were reminded that in addressing the needs of our aging members, we should also consider the interests and needs of other constituencies, such as young adults and young parents.

All-in-all, the Aging Gracefully retreat provided an important space for conversation within our meeting and its committees on important issues of aging. Our committees continue to reflect on many of the relevant issues raised at the retreat. We are grateful for the support and leadership we received from PYM in making this possible.

The Haddonfield Friends Meeting preferences for one’s burial and memorial service can be found on the Haddonfield Friends Meeting website.