Politics

No Religion? At These Faith-Based Retirement Communities, No Problem.

Before Helen Leddy moved to Shell Point Retirement Community in Fort Myers, Fla., last year, she got the lowdown on the place from her best friend, Judy Burget.

Ms. Leddy, 86, wasn’t interested in leaving her condo if it meant adopting one part of the culture Shell Point emphasized on its website: “If you go online, you see they’re built around religion,” she said. As a Unitarian Universalist who grew up Jewish, Ms. Leddy was concerned that the denomination that founded Shell Point, the evangelical Christian and Missionary Alliance, might promote values that did not match hers, and that her new neighbors might proselytize. Ms. Burget, who has lived at Shell Point for six years, told her that wasn’t going to happen.

Faith-based communities like Shell Point, which was established in 1968, generally don’t insist that residents subscribe to the religion that shaped the communities, according to Katie Smith Sloan, the president and chief executive of LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services. Instead, residents have come to expect different kinds of benefits, and the religious aspect, which was once a meaningful calling card, is now often seen as just another effective marketing tool, like on-site beauty salons or golf pro shops.

Judy Burget moved to Shell Point six years ago and found a welcoming community that offers recreational opportunities, including a chance to get her hands dirty in the on-site butterfly garden. Credit…Zack Wittman for The New York Times

Like other continuing-care retirement communities — developments where people over age 55 can live independently and then move to higher levels of caregiving when needed — Shell Point encourages residents to find their mid- or late-life groove in any number of ways. Here, a meandering pedestrian may be honked off the road by a golf cart driver hurrying to the woodworking shop, a photography or pottery class, a personal training session or a show at the 44,000-square-foot arts center.

Ms. Leddy, who recently attended a pizza party in her building, said that gatherings at Shell Point “generally start with a blessing, and maybe there’s a blessing at the end.” Otherwise, acquaintances toss off the occasional “God bless.”

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