The board for the Episcopal Society for Ministry on Aging (ESMA), which for nearly four decades has served as the official agency dealing with aging issues at the national level, has voted to dissolve on February 28, 2003.
ESMA was formed in 1964 in response to the first National Conference on Aging and was designated at that year's General Convention as the agency to assist parishes and dioceses in establishing housing for the elderly.
In 1977 the focus was broadened to include a wider ministry. Representatives were appointed in every diocese and in 1979 the office was moved from New Jersey to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and the executive director became a full-time position.
In 1991 the General Convention voted to phase out funding for ESMA and it operated without national support since 1994. A directory of housing programs for the elderly related to the Episcopal Church was published in 1995 and was rated highly by "Consumer Reports." By 1999, however, support from parishes and dioceses had decreased and ESMA had used its reserve funds, leading to the decision to close the office.
A resolution presented to the 2000 General Convention, calling for a national consultation to consider the church's response to the needs of an aging society, passed unanimously and the consultation met in Florida in the fall of 2001. The consultation recommended that a full-time national office of ministry with the aging be established but the Executive Council meeting in June 2002 did not respond positively. The Executive Council later passed a motion that will ask the 2003 General Convention to appoint a six-member task force to assess ministry with the aging.
By Albert H. Lee