We Are FA-MI-LY
McFarlin’s Bonus Years ministry is a beloved staple for many people. At each monthly luncheon, those who attend get to check in with friends, share a meal, sing hymns, celebrate monthly birthdays and anniversaries, and learn from members and leaders of the community. On monthly trips, they pile into church vans together and find adventure in our own, great state. These activities may seem ordinary to most people, but to this group they are a sign of community that reflects the most human need we have – a place to belong and feel loved.
Community has consistently been the anchor of the senior adult programs at McFarlin, and that anchor undergirded the programming during the 70s and 80s. During those years, before a dedicated staff person was hired for Senior Adult ministry, the Jolly Elders (as they were called back then) looked to people like volunteer Ruth Robinson and Program Director Kathy Mash to create programs and get-togethers for the group.
Years later, when a family gave a sizable donation towards ministry for senior adults, Phil Fenn took action asking Polly Sandlin to create a plan they could implement as the foundation for the ministry. The goal was to formally create a sustainable, intentional program that offered ways for senior adults to thrive in their mind, body, and soul.
Two themes emerged in reflecting with current Bonus Years participants on how this community continues to be a place of friendship and family: Dedicated leaders and volunteers and strengthening faith through relationships.
Dedicated Leaders and Volunteers
Since Polly’s first year on staff in the 90s, many senior adult directors and volunteers have come and gone, but according to Beverly Sanders, each one has contributed greatly to the impact the program has had on people throughout the years. Polly was a pioneer because nobody else had written a program specifically designed to give senior adults an outlet for the mind, something to keep their mind busy, not just sit and stagnate.
Joe and Beverly Sanders have been active members of McFarlin for many years. Beverly can trace her family’s history at McFarlin back to the church’s early years. After retirement in 1995, they both looked forward to having time to engage more fully in church activities. They began attending Bonus Years casually, but after spending time with that group, it slowly became a permanent part of their activity schedule. They quickly began volunteering with Bonus Years, with the intention of helping people come together and thrive.
“Somewhere along the line, it just became something that we had to be at every month. It wasn’t so much the facility, it’s the people we’ve met here. If I hadn’t met some of these people, my life would not be as rich as it has been.”
Stephanie Miller, Director of Care and Senior Adult Ministries at McFarlin sees the dedication people have for this program – those who attend and those who volunteer:
“These sweet people come in and, bless their hearts, sometimes they’re dealing with their own health problems and physical decline, but that doesn’t stop them. Ted and Joe will load up their arms with hymnals to pass out. I’m so appreciative of the ways they serve.”
Strengthening Faith through Relationships
One set of friends that can attest to the richness of finding meaning in relationships are Ted and Cathi Witten and Joe and Beverly Sanders. Having been friends for over 20 years, their friendships have deepened through Bonus Years, Bible studies, UMM projects and a myriad of other McFarlin ministry activities.
Having both grown up Catholic, Ted and Cathi joined McFarlin 20 years ago after seeing how much their adult children loved their Sunday school class at the Methodist church they attended in Tulsa. They longed to find a spiritual community and quickly became a few of the first members of the Crossroads Sunday school class that was establish by Mel and Betsy Penn.
For the past two decades they have truly lived in authentic Christian community at McFarlin. Cathi shares just how impactful her friendships are in her faith.
“Relationships are a big part of spiritual growth. We’ve seen everything our friends have gone through in their lives. Tragedies and sadness they’ve experienced and how the church has come together and helped them. It’s been really good for us.”
Bonus Years has now become a place for them to find meaning in giving back to others. Cathi sees the impact relationships have in the lives of senior adults.
“I think as people get older, they find it harder to get out. Maybe they’ve lost their spouse, their children are grown, they’re feeling lonely. So, when they come, they get to see someone over and over again every month.”
Carol Dean Shreiner, former Director of Senior Adult Ministries, echoes how important community is for older adults:
“Yes, belonging is exactly what they feel with Bonus Years. And you know, we used to call our older members and check in on them and invite them to our programs. And they would be so appreciative of the call because they still want to feel a part of the community and want to participate in what we do.”
Some relationships have even ended in wedding bells. Connie and Jo Monks grew up across the river from each other in the Eufaula area. Over the years, they both found themselves in Norman and became active members of many groups and programs at McFarlin. Though proximity didn’t provide a chance for them to meet when they were kids, they got that chance 60 years later as Connie was walking out of a Bonus Years luncheon. Jo recounts the moment Connie asked her out for the first time.
“We really didn’t know each other that much. We were about the last two people to leave and as we were leaving, he stopped me and asked, ‘how’s about having breakfast with me one morning?’”
Their relationship blossomed as they spent more time together and eventually got married. Connie holds a special place in his heart for the way McFarlin offered community and relationship in a way he never imagined.
“McFarlin helped us meet and has kept us together. We love each other and McFarlin.”
Through Bonus Years, people feel seen, heard and loved. Knowing that people care if you show up each month has become the anchor that grounds them in love and belonging. This is what the Kingdom of God is all about: nourishing people in mind, body and soul. When a person’s entire well-being is valued and cared for, they can give that same love and belonging to others. After all, “we love because he first loved us.”