Golden Cross Foundation

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Expanding Older Adult Ministry in Tennessee |


by Cindy Solomon


The Golden Cross Foundation, a non-profit corporation and extension ministry of the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC), awarded more than $150,000 to churches and organizations throughout the conference in 2018. Money from the grants has been used toward retrofitting churches with ramps and handrails, starting older adult ministries, purchasing a 14-passenger mini bus, providing financial assistance for counseling, and building micro homes.

Officially founded in 2013, the Golden Cross Foundation (GCF) provides funding assistance for new and ongoing ministries and services with older adults in the Tennessee Conference and provides expertise and strategic planning to the conference for the expansion of innovative and effective ministries with older adults.

“You might say the foundation exists to give money away,” said GCF Executive Director Kent McNish. “Each year members of the GCF board gather to review and approve grant requests from UM churches and organizations throughout the Tennessee Conference of The United Methodist Church.”

In 2018, 17 grants were awarded ranging from $1,325 to $60,000. Many of the churches receiving grant money applied it toward retrofitting their buildings with ramps, handrails, and grab bars to make them more accessible—inside and out—to people with limited mobility. Other churches used the money to make improvements in sound or projection systems to better accommodate people with vision or hearing issues. Money for the largest grant, $60,000, is being used by Open Table Nashville to build two new micro homes at The Village of Glencliff (on the grounds of Glencliff UMC) earmarked for older adults experiencing homelessness.

While many of the improvements help make older buildings and facilities ADA compliant, another benefit is that older adult worshippers feel welcomed and valued. In some cases, the upgrades encouraged members to return to church.

Members of East End UMC in Savannah, Tennessee, used their grant money toward retrofitting restrooms with fixtures and handrails, enhancing the sanctuary’s sound system, and installing interior and exterior ramps and a covered walkway. “We hope and pray that members and visitors who were unable to access our facility for fear of falling or who have difficulty hearing during worship or navigating in small bathrooms will now be encouraged to attend,” said Janice M. Shelby, grant coordinator and immediate past chair of East End UMC’s administrative council.

“We want everyone to know they are an important part of our ministry. Far too often, as people age, they feel the church doesn’t or can’t provide for their physical needs. As a result, they stay home. We want all who come to East End UMC to be able to enter the building without getting wet on a rainy day, access the sanctuary without the fear of falling, and have privacy in an appropriately designed bathroom.”

Rev. Tim Dunavant is pastor at Gainesboro (Tennessee) First UMC, a church with a vibrant congregation that includes many in the community who are aging. “The ‘we are not as young as we used to be’ dynamic created several barriers holding back people from fully engaging in the services and events at church,” said Dunavant.

Two of the main barriers involved physical aspects of the sanctuary itself: an aging sound system and wooden pews. “Many worshippers do not hear as well as they once did,” said Dunavant. “We thought we had a great sound system but like everything electronic, it became old and outdated. The assisted listening devices worked simply as glorified hearing aids that amplified all of the sounds in the room.” In addition, the handmade pews (circa 1924)—while beautiful and ornate—were uncomfortable for people’s backs.

Money from their GCF grant was used to help remedy both situations: a new sound system that includes assisted listening devices connected directly to the microphone. And much to the relief of backs throughout the congregation, seat cushions were installed in the pews.

“Those with back problems are now able to enjoy the service without pain creeping into their joints,” said Dunavant. “And worshippers who have trouble hearing can wear a headset allowing them to catch every word.”

As a result, several people who were previously loosely affiliated with the church have begun attending every Sunday because they can fully engage in the service. “They know not everyone shares in their struggles with aging-related hearing, mobility, or sight issues,” said Dunavant. “But knowing that congregation members cared about them and addressed these issues makes them feel welcome and a part of the congregation.”

GCF’s board of directors meets four times a year to review grant proposals. In 2018, grants were given to churches of all sizes including 40-member Travisville UMC in Pall Mall, Tennessee, and 1,000-member Belle Meade UMC in Nashville. Recipients were:

Crievewood UMC $1,000
Belle Meade UMC $2,500
Wings of Hope $4,000
Beersheba Springs $10,000
Glendale UMC $4,325
Good Shepherd UMC $10,000
Gainsboro UMC $7,002
Open Table Nashville $60,000
East End UMC $10,000
Travisville UMC $1,000
Hillcrest UMC $10,000
East End UMC $8,475
Dickson 1st UMC $10,000
Monterey UMC $1,325
Savannah East End UMC $1,525
Clark UMC – McMinnville $5,500
Madison Street UMC $7,500
2018 Total $154,152


Since 2013 more than $300,000 in grant money has been awarded to 34 UM churches and organizations. “Word is spreading about the Golden Cross Foundation grants,” said McNish. “If your church wants to start or expand an older adult ministry or you want to retrofit your building to make it more accessible, safe, and welcoming, we encourage you to apply.”

Application due dates are four weeks prior to a board meeting. The remaining 2019 board meetings are April 19, August 16, and November 15. For more information and an online application click here or visit

For more general information about the Golden Cross Foundation and churches receiving grant money, visit or contact Kent McNish, executive director of The Golden Cross Foundation at or 615-479-6175.