By LINDA BEHRENS
Dioceses across the nation are faced with some staggering statistics.
In 2019, about 16 percent of the American population was 65 years old or older; a figure expected to reach 21.6 percent by 2040. This is a significant increase from 1950, when only 8 percent of the population was 65 or older.
In 2020, a larger percentage of older men (70 percent) than older women (48 percent) were married.
Of older adults age 65+ living in the community, 61 percent lived with their spouse/partner in 2020. About 27 percent lived alone.
As the population ages, members of diocesan parishes are aging. Not surprisingly, parish leaders are asking how they can reach these older parishioners?
One example of this kind of outreach is the On Our Own group offered through partner parishes Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady Queen of Peace in Belleville. The group is open to anyone who is on their own in life.
“This is a grassroots desire of people who want some kind of social activity around age,” says Karen Vick, the organizer of the group, which began in 2018. The group meets once a month at a local restaurant for lunch or dinner.
“The focus is ‘being on your own,’ which may or may not be by choice,” she says, referring to those whose spouse has died, but also includes people who are divorced or single.Group provides gathering place
for anyone on their own in life
The 15 active participants, who currently are mostly women over age 60, are wanting gatherings that are social and non-threatening.
“The beauty of the program is we eat, talk and share,” Vick adds. “We can meet people’s needs in a relaxed way.”
Vick says she enjoys the company of this group.
“I find it enriching to sit with people and hear their stories, to form relationships with others. Jesus was relational,” she adds. “We need to be relational with others.”
The participants as a group decide the date, time and place of the next gathering. Vick follows up by contacting everyone once a month. During these calls, she asks if anyone needs a ride to the next get-together.
The On Our Own group didn’t meet for awhile because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they also cancelled the recent January gathering because of the omicron variant surge.
“Our COVID break was necessary because safety is a top priority,” Vick says.
Vick, who retired in 2017 after teaching 44 years at Queen of Peace School, also served as director of adult faith formation at Blessed Sacrament and Queen of Peace for six years, until 2021.
Vick’s twin sister, Sharon Needham, also attends On Our Own. Needham is part of the Bereavement Committee Outreach.
“Groups like On Our Own and what we do to support those who are grieving are concrete examples of how the parish as a family can care for parishioners,” Needham says. “We know what people are going through, and we care about them.”
She adds, “Those who participate in On Our Own rely on each other. When we get to know others at gatherings outside of the church, then it is easier to reach out when we see each other at Mass.”
As Pope Francis wrote in January 2021: “‘I am with you always’ are also the words that I, as Bishop of Rome and an elderl
person like yourselves, would like to address to you… The whole Church is close to you – to us – and cares about you, loves you and does not want to leave you alone!”
The next On Our Own gathering is at 11:30 a.m. Feb. 16 at The Abbey Coffeehouse in west Belleville.
For more information, email Karen Vick at [email protected]