Looking at what churches do, what they don't do and what they could do

By Kirsten J. Barnes, CCBP Graduate Assistant

Dr. Michael Parker is using churches to get the word out about his research related to elder care and social work.

Though the use of churches and faith-based organizations, Parker hopes to expand the reach of his research to communities throughout the state.

"Getting churches recruited "” Protestant, Catholic, black and white is a difficult task," said Parker, who is the co-author with James M. Houston of A Vision for the Aging Church: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors.  "We spend a lot of our lives publishing information in journals and very few people read them. We operate in tribal gatherings and we rarely have the opportunity to share what we know with the people who need to hear it."

Parker believes that faith-based organizations can and should be doing more to assist in the dissemination of information, particularly where the elderly are concerned.

"We're looking at what churches do, what they don't do and what they could do," said Parker, associate professor in the School of Social Work at The University of Alabama and board member for the Center for Mental Health and Aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

In addition to presenting his research as the National Outreach Scholarship Conference at 3:45 p.m., Monday, Mason Room, Bryant Conference Center, Parker organizes training conferences for elders, their adult children and church leaders.

He says most people do not plan for caring for their parents; they react to their parent's needs or a medical emergency.

In addition to teaching adult children about caring for parents, he also works on helping elders retain value in the community.

"This can add life to years and years to life," Parker said. "Most academics want to make a difference, but we must translate this information so that they can act upon it," one the primary goals of engaged scholarship.

Another program Parker is working on with congregations is the Life Review Project, which helps the elderly write their own life stories in a creative way.

"This is a chance to connect with future generations and to put your own life into perspective before it's too late," Parker said.

Additionally, Parker is working with the Veterans Administration and its faith-based information outreach efforts to assist the elderly in determining if they are receiving all the benefits they are entitled to.

As engaged scholars seek out community partners, Parker says that churches and faith-based organizations should not be left out.

"We realized that veterans are a part of congregations," said Parker, who is a retired Army lieutenant colonel.

His presentation will incorporate a neurologist, gerontologist and various social workers as they discuss the various ways in which they have incorporated faith-based organizations into their social work research.