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Seniors ministry is reinvigorated

Within about a year, a Clearwater church has quadrupled its senior participation.

When Jim Lancaster started working as minister of senior adults at Calvary Baptist Church in 1998, he discovered that many of the elderly members didn't feel like part of the congregation.

"When I came here, some seniors felt they were being left out," he said.

Though the downtown Clearwater church has had a program for seniors for nearly 20 years, Lancaster said he felt it was time to give it a new image.

So he turned to Larry Mizell, a senior adult ministry specialist at LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Mizell conducts intensive training programs for senior adult ministers at the agency's Nashville headquarters.

Lancaster, 64, completed the four-day course in March 1999. "I got so motivated," he said.

The first thing he did was change the name of the ministry's monthly gathering from CBSers (Calvary Baptist Seniors) to Senior Power Impact. He said the old name was a mystery to non-members and he wanted a title that would appeal to all seniors, not just church members.

Every third Wednesday, seniors meet at the fellowship hall for an inspirational luncheon featuring music, speakers and fellowship.

Lancaster also started a weekly musical program for seniors who love to sing but don't care to join the choir. "They have a place where they can still exercise their gifts," he said.

Another addition to the ministry is a Skills and Trade program, in which seniors exchange their talents. For example, a retired electrician may fix a member's light switch or a former plumber may repair a parishioner's broken pipe. Other new events include a talent show, a concert and a huge birthday celebration. These activities and others are highlighted in Super Senior Surge, a monthly newsletter.

The ministry also is planning its first-ever weeklong trip: a seven-day Caribbean cruise in October.

"We have a whole new spirit and a whole new attitude," Lancaster said. "We have given (the ministry) a facelift."

And a boost in numbers.

Lancaster said in February 1999 that about 200 seniors were participating in ministry activities. A year later, the figure quadrupled, he said.

About 20 percent, or 1,200 of the church's 5,000 registered members, are 65 and older. Nationwide, seniors make up 12 percent to 15 percent of the 15-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, the largest of the Baptist bodies in the United States.

Pastor Bill Anderson says Calvary places a high priority on offering seniors an equal amount of social and worship activities. "Churches are really behind the times if they don't have these specialized ministries," he said.

This week, Mizell got to see firsthand the results of his training. He and about 400 seniors from eight Southeastern states visited Calvary Baptist Church Monday through Wednesday for "Spring Fling," a conference for seniors sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention.

"Jim is doing a great job," Mizell said. "He probably has one of the premier ministries in the convention."

On Wednesday, nearly 400 seniors, a mix of church members and Spring Fling participants, gathered at Calvary Baptist for this month's Senior Power Impact program.

Wearing a pink jacket and white trousers, Lancaster hosted the 1{-hour program, which included performances by the Nashville Praise Band from Green Hill Baptist Church in Nashville, recognition of birthdays and anniversaries, and a comedy skit.

Afterward, seniors enjoyed a box lunch from Chick-fil-A and shared stories, especially about their grandchildren.

Donald and Norma James, who joined Calvary Baptist Church on Palm Sunday, attended Senior Power Impact for the first time Wednesday. The Largo couple said they were attracted to the church because of its outreach to seniors.

"We haven't been disappointed," said Mrs. James, 79, a retired customer service representative. "There is very good fellowship here."

Pat Martinelli of Clearwater, 67, an active member, said: "We make sure no one is alone."

Mizell and Lancaster say seniors are an untapped resource.

"We're trying to make the local church realize that senior adults have the greatest potential because of their knowledge and wisdom," Mizell said. "It's not just an eating and meeting club. It's getting your seniors involved in ministry."