An expansive mission field for student choirs
From well before the establishment of YouthCUE in 1990, it has been obvious that there are numerous natural connections bridging youth choirs and senior adult care facilities. It has always been this way since the early days of my ministry in the 1970s and, now, at the beginning of 2017, these connections and potential ministry points are continuing to expand, now exponentially.
The world of senior care has morphed tremendously over the decades. One driver of this reality is the sheer number of people within this age group. As the population is generally staying active and healthy longer, and since life expectancy has increased by several years due to many positive factors, senior adults are remaining engaged and vibrant considerably longer than even a decade or two ago.
Upon arrival into their advancing years, senior adults may now choose from a wide array of residency options. Some independent living facilities now accept adults as young as age 55, and as the persons’ needs advance, likewise the care is increased. Independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing care, memory facilities, and hospice – these and more are some of the options which have been a happy replacement of the old, stuffy “nursing home” of yore. Seniors who prefer or need to live in a community of care now have what they need.
A large part of how the youth choir – senior living connection is made is the universal need for good activities in senior facilities. Even the highest level of independent care is always searching for positive programming: concerts, lectures, recitals, educational dialogues, recreation, intergenerational activities, social outlets, spiritual enrichment, worship services. Directors of programming are at times almost desperate for low-cost or no-cost activities and programs to provide for their residents. This becomes even more true as the level of care increases and the residents become more dependent.
On the other side of the equation, youth choirs need regular places to sing and “perform” our music. Most church worship calendars cannot provide student choirs as aggressive a schedule as we need to maximize our musical advancement and performance experience. Student choirs who sing only when our churches can work us into worship service schedules are likely to “perform” not nearly enough to keep the group from becoming bored or under-challenged. Regular stints at nearby retirement facilities is a great solution to help keep our groups on the musical cutting edge.
Obviously, we want our students to sing their very best every time they stand in front of a congregation or audience. We must always commit to put our best foot forward and to strive for excellence. The beauty of students singing in a senior adult facility is that, if the students are well-behaved, polite, respectful and friendly to the residents, the audience will be in love with the choir before the students even open their mouths to sing. Although a retirement facility will surely appreciate great choral singing, they certainly do not demand it. When the youth choir adopts as its goal excellence in ministry, the students will not only sing their best, but they will also become young ministers who reach out and touch the residents, share their friendship, listen to their stories and tell some of their own, shake their hands, and give them hugs. From the moment the students walk in the door until they reconvene on the parking lot, the whole experience needs to be about personal, gentle, caring ministry.
In the coming editions of YouthCUE, you will be hearing more about how YouthCUE is breaking new and exciting ground in retirement facility ministry. YouthCUE’s San Antonio Youth Chorale (SAYC) is located in the midst of the fastest growing city in the nation (San Antonio), and a part of that growth is the astonishing expansion we are seeing in new retirement facilities. Within a two-mile radius of SAYC’s rehearsal space (which is located in the fastest growing part of the fastest growing city), there have been seven major senior facilities opened in the past two years. Each of these is beautifully constructed, impeccably landscaped, meticulously appointed, and state of the art. It’s obvious that this growth represents a major trend for the future.
I am asking all YouthCUE directors to begin looking around you, your community, your city and identify a senior care facility or two your choir might “adopt” in the next couple of years. My hunch is that some of our directors and choirs already have facilities they have practically adopted, but perhaps not officially.
As you identify your facilities, we will be seeking dialogue and partnership with you, your student choir, and the senior facilities you select. The potential for these ministries is absolutely staggering, and we at YouthCUE want to help you break this new ground and establish new partnerships which will enhance your choir’s ministry and music-making dexterity.
As we work together on this project, everyone wins: you, your youth choir, your youth group, your church, the care facilities, and YouthCUE.
Watch this newsletter and our website for much more to come. This is only the beginning.
Founder & President, YouthCUE & Minister of Music & Worship at Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, TX
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