The Gospel According to Seniors

By Neil Earle

His name was Virgil and he could not get over the Japanese attacking the U.S. Pacific Fleet. That infamous day, December 7, 1941, some 2403 young Americans died. A navy man, Virgil helped win the war but…there was a problem.

Virgil, like many in his generation carried a hatred for everything Japanese, a hatred that lasted for almost 60 years. That was, until he was counseled and then heard a sermon on forgiveness given by Emmett Rushing, an Assistant Pastor in the New Covenant Fellowship church of Glendora, CA. Emmett and his wife Jan had been visiting Virgil’s residence, the Country Villa Nursing Home in West Covina, CA every month. The Rushings were no strangers to bringing music to senior’s homes. Their small band, “Country Sunshine” had been playing golden oldies for about forty years in the Pasadena region. After his ordination in 1999, though, Rushing felt an extra compulsion to preach a simple Christian message as they shared Gospel and old-time music with the elders.

Al Neumann greets senior.

It was after counseling, a simple prayer and a short sermon that the Holy Spirit took away Virgil’s guilt. “Every time I see him at the Sunday prayer and worship he gives me the thumbs up,” says Rushing. “He says he has never been better.”

“To see this aging veteran at peace and the change in his countenance is heart-warming. He had thought he was going to hell for his hatred,” adds Jan Rushing.

“Church With Al”

The Rushing’s new career as singing pastors began when their good friend Al Neumann, another Glendora elder, started up a regular Sunday morning full-fledged church service in a neighboring city. “My mother was staying at this high quality senior’s home in Rancho Park Villa,” says Al Neumann. “They had no Protestant service as such so I discussed with them bringing a simple, non-denominational message to the facility. They were excited. We found out later that a group of seniors had been praying for just such a service.”

“Pretty soon we were asked to do a Friday night Bible Study,” adds Rose Neumann, “and we draw as many as 25 Bible each week. They are so thankful we are there and show so much appreciation. They eagerly answer some of the questions we throw out.”

The Rushings and another elder, Miles Johnson, pitched in to help “Church with Al” get started. Marietta Grundy, a long-time Grace Communion International (GCI) member, was enlisted to help lead worship. Set-up is quite simple but effective, as she mentions: “Al Neumann arrives at 11AM. He sets up the specially-bought sound system and xeroxed sheet music. Then he goes out to the dining area to invite the seniors for the 2PM service. We all help serve water. We usually sing three songs and then hear a 20-minute sermon – about thirty minutes in all.”

“Al’s personal invitation is very important,” Rose Neumann adds, “The invite establishes the no-pressure friendship factor which is so important in dealing with seniors.”

Communion is held every six weeks. Individualized attention is stressed to attendees in the form of prayers, anointings and personal encouragement. Throughout the course of this six year effort, the Glendora team have performed three baptisms and been asked to speak at fifteen funerals, some of them quite large. “I was present at the baptism of one senior who was the young ripe age of 90,” Marietta Grundy remembers fondly. “It was my first time witnessing a sprinkling birth into the body of Christ.”

Giving and Receiving

Inevitably, with the Holy Spirit’s blessing the GCI ministry team are much the richer for such spirited and spiritual interaction. Marietta Grundy has fond nicknames for each of her fellow-worshippers. “There is Kind Lillian, Caring Marjorie, Smiling Thelma, Happy Betty, Peaceful Margaret, Darling Lucy, Gracious Jeanette. Each member seems full of a variety of traits that describe our Lord and Savior.”

Rose Neumann is particularly struck by a lady named Mary Komoto, born in 1941 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Mary later moved to Japan with her husband who was a translator. She was in the bathhouse outside of her home when the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. Perhaps the bath-tub shielded her from the blast some few miles way. Mary helped hundreds of survivors reconnect with their families. Thankful for being a survivor, she bears no ill will against her native land. She enjoys visits from her son, his wife and three grandsons who take very good care of her. A life-long Methodist, Mary epitomizes the living resources that abound in the nation’s senior homes. Hearing people’s life stories and of their miraculous deliverances across time bolsters the faith of the ministry team as well. Sharing is a two-way street.

“You’ve got to understand what a great outreach this project is for training speakers, worship leaders, service people,” explains a Glendora senior pastor. “Many of our churches are now small enough that speaking opportunities are rarer than they used to be. In that sense the senior’s churches fills a great need for our service-oriented Gosple-trained elders.”

The San Dimas Senior’s Church keeps going from strength to strength. On the Sunday of October 10 the Director at Rancho Park Villa wheeled in an appreciation cake, plaque and refreshments to thank Al Neumann for his six-year leadership. “This is long overdue,” was the theme of the surprise get-together. In its new incarnation, New Covenant Fellowship of Grace Communion International is one of many congregations living up to the unofficial church planting mantra of “all kinds of churches for all kinds of people in all kinds of places.” With as many as 30-40 seniors aged 65 to 102 years meeting on any given week, Glendora elders seem to have an assignment cut out for them from the Holy Spirit. “It’s as if God looked these wonderful folks in the eyes and said, Your days will be long on the earth; your days will be strong on the earth,” concludes Marietta Grundy.

With reporting by Al and Rose Neumann, Emmett and Jan Rushing, and Marietta Grundy.