by Cynthia Ray
On a cool and rainy April afternoon in Orlando, Florida, the significance of the moment was not lost on me or the others attending the 2014 Spring Conference of the Presbyterian Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (PAHSA). In the audience were CEOs, executive directors, board members and other top leaders of senior housing and services providers from across the nation whose organizations are members of PAHSA. At the front of the room, a panel of church leaders sat at a common table: teaching and ruling elders from the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC), the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians (ECO). For the next 90 minutes, there was no conflict, no debate, no attempts to reconcile ecclesiology or argue hot topics. Instead, panelists and participants walked peaceably together on common ground — their care for and ministry with older adults.
Common ground was easy to find, especially because the panel members were deeply involved and invested in this ministry. The panel included Eric Hoey, director of Evangelism & Church Growth for the PC(USA) and liaison to PAHSA; Alan Griffith, ruling elder at the Oreland Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC) in Oreland, Pennsylvania, and board chair for Presby’s Inspired Life; Barry Jenkins, pastor of First Presbyterian Church (ECO) of Florence, South Carolina, and past board chair of Presbyterian Communities of South Carolina; and Robert Clarke, director of ministerial relief for PCA Retirement & Benefits, Inc.
Each panelist introduced their respective denominational identities, mission and structure and shared about ministries in their denominations aimed at serving older adults. The conference participants engaged in meaningful dialogue to understand how their organizations related at a national, regional and local level to these various Presbyterian denominations and how strengthening these relationships were of mutual benefit to all — and especially to the older adults who are residents, clients and congregants.
Likewise, the conference participants are well acquainted with the Presbyterian family. All member organizations of PAHSA have historical connections with Presbyterianism in the United States. Most were founded by Presbyterian congregations, presbyteries or synods. Some were, until recently, owned by these ecclesiastical entities. Several maintain covenant agreements with presbyteries and synods that may include board representation, access to congregational members as donors and volunteers, and other agreed upon benefits and accountabilities.
As ecclesiastical affiliations have been shifting in the past few decades, long-standing relationships between Presbyterian congregations and PAHSA member organizations were called into question. Case in point: a congregation, which over a century ago founded a retirement community and has a member on the community’s board, departed from the PC(USA) and joined ECO. Is the relationship over? Does the board member resign? Do volunteers at the senior community quit? Can church members choose to live at the senior community? Who would decide and how can both the church and the senior community uphold their commitments to serve older adults in a faith-based context?
About two years ago, it became clear to the PAHSA board of directors and to its members that, while our long-standing mission relationship with the PC(USA) remains vital and would be upheld, it was time to acknowledge and strengthen relationships with other Presbyterian denominations and support our members in the same endeavor. In most cases, these were old friends realigning to new families of Presbyterians and their friendship was too important to let go.
Many years ago, as a student of the Ecumenical Institute of Bossey in Geneva, Switzerland, I learned the standard “first step” in ecumenical relationship building: Invite them
to your table. So, at the direction of PAHSA’s board of directors and with the blessing of the PC(USA), I extended invitations to the four Presbyterian denominations with current or historical connections to our members to take a seat at PAHSA’s spring conference. The panelists’ engagement with the conference participants, not only during the presentation, but throughout the conference, was a significant confirmation of the direction we were headed. At PAHSA’s annual meeting, just hours after the panel presentation, the members formalized this new direction by approving changes in PAHSA’s bylaws and endorsing the board’s strategic plan, effectively opening the way to cultivate these relationships now and into the future.
PAHSA is privileged and well equipped to serve as a meeting ground for Presbyterian denominational leaders and Presbyterian senior housing and services leaders. PAHSA gladly offers itself as a resource to the denominations in their ministry to older adults. We have been and will continue to be present at General Assemblies and national gatherings of Presbyterians where we are welcome. I have been pleased to provide resources and consultation to PAHSA member boards that are revising their bylaws to retain and extend their Presbyterian relationships and to Presbyterian denominational representatives who are crafting covenants and mission partnership agreements with our members.
As an independent, non-profit association representing organizations that provide senior residential communities, care and services, PAHSA exists to serve older adults through mission and faith. Extending our Presbyterian relationships better enables PAHSA to fulfill its mission to provide and encourage networking and educational opportunities among its members and to promote the ministries of its members. Together with our members, PAHSA shares Presbyterian mission connections and sustains a long-standing commitment to Presbyterian senior ministry through leadership development, sharing best practices, forging and strengthening Presbyterian mission connections with and on behalf of our members, and increasing visibility and access about senior housing and services to a nationwide audience of older adults and their families.
CYNTHIA RAY is executive director of PAHSA. She is a teaching elder in the PC(USA) and member of the Presbytery of the Twin Cities area.