Two decades ago, local real-estate professional Brenda Cox was looking for support services for her aging mother.
Based on the challenges she faced during the experience, Cox decided her church – Lomax AME Zion in Arlington’s Green Valley neighborhood – should establish an outreach effort to help those in similar positions.
Thus was born the church’s Senior Ministry, which on Jan. 22 celebrated its 20th anniversary with both a look back and a peek into the future.
“Who knew, when it started, it would last this long?” Cox said at the anniversary program, which (like many church events over the past two years) was held online due to public-health concerns.
Cox has led the initiative since its founding, but was quick to spread around the praise for its success.
“This has truly been an effort on behalf of the whole congregation,” she said. “People just came forward.”
That was a view shared by Clifton Brown, who delivered an invocation at the event.
“It takes more than just one person to keep it going,” he said in saluting Cox and those who aid her.
Nearly 50 people Zoomed in for the anniversary event, a testament that interest has not flagged.
“This ministry has not only grown, but flourished,” said Rev. Gary Burns, who served as pastor at Lomax AME Zion when the senior ministry began.
In pre-COVID times, members of the ministry would gather monthly on a Saturday morning for a hearty breakfast followed by an education program. Despite restrictions since the spring of 2020, members have continued to meet via Zoom. (“Just because we’re seniors doesn’t mean we’re not keeping up,” Cox chuckled.)
On occasion, the meetings were more adventurous; one time some years ago, participants drove south to spend the day in North Carolina, visiting and worshiping with a former Lomax parishioner.
Rev. Burns urged participants to persevere through the pandemic into better times, and to ensure that the Senior Ministry continues to meet the needs of parishioners in ever-changing times.
“Continue to do it. Don’t get weary,” he said. “Let’s look forward to the next two decades.”
The community has much to learn from its more seasoned citizens, noted Bishop W. Darin Moore, presiding prelate of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
“God grants seniors a level of maturity, stability and wisdom – a level of wisdom that can only be acquired at the ‘university of life,’” he said.
“The Lord has kept you alive for a purpose: to help make things better for others,” Bishop Moore said. “Live life with purpose. Cherish each moment of each day that we have [as] a gift and a blessing.”
Among those who considers himself blessed is Elmer Gant. He is now 97 years old, and has been a member of the Lomax congregation since birth.
“I love the senior ministry,” he said to kick off a taped presentation of some of the most senior congregants delivering words of wisdom. “It’s doing a great job. Happy anniversary!”
Arlington County Board member Matt de Ferranti, also delivering pre-recorded comments (as the County Board was meeting at the same time), said Lomax’s efforts supporting seniors have an impact far beyond the church itself.
“We serve seniors together,” he said. “Thank you so much for being a partner.”
There is an intergenerational component to the senior ministry, which runs both directions. The elders support the youth in various ways and, at one event, teens presented a program on discovering all the features of cellphones and other electronic devices.
Pointing to his own slightly graying head of hair, Bishop Moore reminded participants that despite the challenges of modern times, being advanced in age brings the peace of having a certain perspective.
“Those of us who have some years on us . . . we can testify we as a people have come through tough times before,” he said.
The program received strong reviews from those in attendance:
• The event was “truly priceless,” said Gloria Camp, one of those who attended.
• It provided “wonderful insights,” said the Rev. Adrian Nelson II, current pastor at the church.
• “It’s about celebrating, it’s about reflecting, it’s about giving thanks,” said Brenda Humphrey.
Perhaps the best piece of advice for living a fulfilled life was offered by another participant.
“Enjoy the present,” she said, “before it becomes the past.”