Role of Church and Religion

In a study looking at frailty and family and church support among African American elderly, the frail elderly were more likely to use community services and less likely to report feeling close to family. However, it was noted that family contact, feeling the church was important, and receiving church support was the same for both the frail and non-frail, thus emphasizing that one cannot assume that families and churches support the most vulnerable elderly (Bowles et al., 2000).

The value of religion, reading religious materials, listening to religious programs, prayer and other forms of non-organized religious participation are part of the fabric in the life and culture of older African Americans.

Studies done in the early 1990s indicate that while the church is a significant contributor to feelings of well-being in elderly Blacks, the family network is viewed as more supportive than the church network (Walls, 1991).

Later reviews of the literature suggest that churches provide significant amounts of “non-kin” support to older African Americans. Particularly in rural communities, or communities with few services, churches play a special role, often serving as the “provider” of services. Ministers and church members form part of the caregiving and “expressive” or emotional support network needed by the older adult.

The frequency of church attendance has been found to impact the amount and frequency of care received. It has been noted that for certain groups of elderly African Americans, friends and church members may be of greater importance than previously thought (Fried, 1998; Taylor, 1986).