By Ashley Perham
Baptist & Reflector intern
NASHVILLE — This spring, the Judson Jewels senior adult group at Judson Baptist Church in Nashville completed a Bible study titled “I’ll Have It God’s Way” by Hattie Bryant. The study serves as a guide for seniors and their families to help them make medical plans for when they can no longer communicate their wishes.
The study has been completed 18 times around the country. Bryant personally taught the five studies completed in Nashville, including the one at Judson Baptist Church. Joe Evans, minister to senior adults at Judson Baptist, said the study “rewarding” and “cutting-edge.”
“I felt that (the topic) was too important not to engage,” Evans said. He said that every member in the class recommended that the church offer the study on a regular basis.
Evans noted a statistic from The Economist that said that while 70 percent of Americans wish to die surrounded by friends and family, 40 percent of Americans will die alone in institutions by next year.
Evans said the study really connected to his experiences of visiting members in the hospital. He personally acted on the concepts taught in the study by designating his niece as his durable power of attorney for healthcare, or a proxy. The proxy is responsible for communicating healthcare wishes to physicians for someone who cannot communicate or make decisions for himself, he added.
This proxy is one example Bryant and Evans gave for how the local church can support seniors through advanced care planning. Bryant said that individuals taking the study create a circle of care to share medical directives with. This circle includes family members, friends, pastors and physicians.
“This process should not be secretive … My dream is that the church embraces these advanced plans,” she said. “I’m really trying to teach churches to be an extension of what typically a biological family has sort of been stuck alone with.”
Mark Miller, interim minister of education at Grace Baptist Church, Nashville, which has already completed the study, and a staff member with the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board, said the study was an education tool he believed every church should use.
“We have an opportunity to step up and help our members live and die with grace and ease,” he said. “We should not leave how our members engage with modern medicine to physicians and healthcare systems alone; we can provide education so that we can live fully every day and into our forever with our Lord.”
Advance care planning is even more important in our modern age with its extended lifespans, said Bryant. “The projection is that millions of more seniors will live past 80, past 85, and the percentage of that group who get dementia is huge,” she said.
Individuals with dementia are not able to make medical decisions for themselves and can benefit greatly from having a medical proxy to make decisions on their behalf. Evans said he is going to Brentwood Baptist Church for a training session on how to help families of those with dementia, a “pressing need” in congregations.
Evans also pointed out the spiritual aspect of the study, which is based on Bryant’s secular book I’ll Have It My Way.
“When Jesus was ministering on this earth, there were numerous times where He told His disciples and others that He was going to be mistreated …. and was going to die a martyr’s death. He was preparing His disciples for His crucifixion and His resurrection,” Evans explained. “The thought is how we ought to be preparing our seniors to anticipate death, but not to dread death.”
Evans said that sometimes he thinks Christians are afraid of dying, but he pointed out that the future is bright for Christians. “I sense there’s a lot of times where people are trusting the healthcare system to help them to stay alive when the fear ought not to be (of) … dying, but it ought to be anticipating heaven,” he said. “You can’t lose as a child of God. Either you’re here on this earth with your family and friends, or you’ve gone to heaven to be with the Lord.”