This is Marion. If she is not the oldest person in our church she is at least in the top three. She has lived more years, seen more of life and has been around for more major historical events than the great majority of our congregation.
Marion started coming to our church about four years ago when her church across the street from ours closed down. She had been attending there most of her life. When she came here to High Mountain it was a culture shock in many ways. The music was different, the worship style and preaching was different, the age of the congregation was different; just about everything she knew about church was different. And she didn’t know a single person. Yet, she has found a church home here. She feels welcomed and most importantly she feels loved. Because of health issues and age she has slowed down considerably and cannot do what she use to do in her younger days. But she is as sharp as a tack and has a lot of great stories and memories to share. She lives alone and so she enjoys whenever people drop by or she gets to chat with others at church. On Friendship Sunday she invited one of her friends who loved the service and has promised to come back to visit with us.
I have read tons of books on church growth and change. I have been exposed to many of the fastest growing churches, investigated the most influential ministries and have attended numerous leadership conferences. There seems to be a common thread that runs through all of them: The future of the church, even of the Kingdom of God on earth, lies with the youth and younger generation. It is not said that way or promoted as such but it is there. I can hardly argue the point that in 20 years they will be the “next generation” of movers and shakers. But I wonder at what cost is it to those aging brothers and sisters among us who are struggling to find a place to fit in? They have “aged out” of the focus of church ministry. They are the ones who are asked to go with the flow and to not stop progress; to be current and open to change. So they are asked (or not asked) to give up their pews for chairs, hymns for “worship songs”, hymnals for Power Points and Bibles for iPads and a variety of high tech devices. For us, change is happening at break neck speed; for them….I can’t imagine how lost and disconnected they must sometimes feel. Now, most of us have some elderly person or people that we help or are friends with. But in terms of church ministry how many “church plants” are with people in their 70’s, 80’s or 90’s? How many ministry initiatives have as their target audience the senior citizens? It strikes me that it is often the elderly who are relegated to the side or whose needs are only addressed as an after thought. As a compromise we “let them” keep their Sunday School class or Senior’s ministries but the unspoken message is to not get in the way of progress…”out with the old and in with the new.”
I may be exaggerating a little and this does not apply to all churches. In some churches there are very active and involved seniors who have prominent roles and whose voice is heard and respected. But I think it is true that in our attempt to modernize and keep culturally relevant we have neglected the soul needs of our aging population, both within and without the church. In other cultures, such as the American Indian and Asian cultures, the elderly are sought out, looked to for wisdom and guidance. In our American culture we seem to take them for granted at best and neglect and abuse them at worst. There are some elderly people who cannot give back, due to physical and mental limitations. On the other hand there are some who are 80 going on 50. But no matter what the age or the cognitive ability, there is a person of value and worth to God and someone who is, or can be, a part of the fellowship of the family of God. John Prine wrote a song called “Hello In There”. Its about not taking the elderly for granted and recognizing that behind that face, inside that body, is a person.
So if you’re walking down the street sometime
And spot some hollow ancient eyes,
Please don’t just pass ’em by and stare
As if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello.”
Ya’ know that old trees just grow stronger,
And old rivers grow wilder ev’ry day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”
Maybe as I age through my 50’s I am just becoming more sensitive to “my peers”. Or maybe I just see some of my own shortcomings and need to be more sensitive. Or maybe seeing Marion make such an effort to get to church every week and to bring a friend with her reminds me of how God can use any of us at any age. But as Christmas approaches and I think about all the young children full of excitement and anticiapation I am reminded that these people who are in their golden age years were once babies too, were once young and energetic, were healthy with their best years ahead of them. So, when you go to church this weekend or you are out shopping or you are praying or you are visiting with neighbors please don’t forget those people we call “elderly”; Stop and say hello. Even though you feel rushed and have a full agenda, remember Christmas can be a very lonely time. Give them some of your Christmas cheer and remember, one day, we will want others to say “Hello in there.”
What do you think?
How does this make you feel?