11.23.2009

David, Timothy, et al.

Two RevGal blog posts today have me thinking again about something I feel really passionate about: ageism in the church. Diane wonders why young people aren't attending congregational meetings, and Elizabeth Hagen shares some of the comments she receives as a young pastor. Elizabeth's post is the most recent I've seen, but I can't count how many identical observations I've read and heard from young women pastors.

My observation has often been that the church wants our young presence, but not necessarily our perspective. I believe that there are cultural differences between generations, and this can create a real struggle, and if we don't directly address this, it can fester. Other times, there's just a flat-out lack of respect for youth. I've seen horrible instances where bishops, priests, and others completely discounted the capacity for ministry in their young people. In direct and indirect ways, church cultures can teach young adults that they don't have anything worthwhile to contribute to the church. In other cases, gatekeepers in the parish who have been there for decades want to make sure that things continue as they always have been. These people are as likely to shut down older new members as they are younger voices.

There are so many biblical models of faithful, courageous young people:
  • Daniel was young when he stood up to the king.
  • Paul reminds Timothy not to let anyone look down on him because of his youth.
  • David was the youngest of his brothers, a ruddy youth, when anointed the next king of Israel.
  • Young Jonathan displayed loyalty and love for his friend David, in the face of his father's wrath.
  • Teenage Mary was chosen by God to bear His Son.
Age doesn't seem to be a relevant factor in being called by God, used by God, or cherished by God. It's horrible when people are made to feel irrelevant as they get older. It's unquestionably sinful to dismiss the value of people whose capacities diminish with age. It's not any better to reject the holiness of God's young people. There's no reason why only one or the other should be the life of the church. Our spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit, they are not our own accomplishments. If we listen to each other, if we look for the Holy Spirit in one another, I think we'd all be more likely to contribute.

There are elderly saints whom I adore, whose presence and experience are blessings to me. I am humbled by and grateful for the fact that they allow me to be a blessing to them as well.

7 comments:

  1. Amen, Mrs. M! That's part of what I wanted to say at my place! really asking for the perspectives,ideas of younger people, valuing their contributions...instead of just asking them to "show up"

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  2. I am finding in my setting that people are happy for me to do more than "just show up." It takes time for trust to be built within the congregation, but once you have it, I believe your leadership can soar.

    Most of the "negative" commentary I get comes from those outside of the church who are just really confused about the young pastor thing.

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  3. Oh, thank goodness! I climbed right up on my soapbox, and then though, "Oh, crap-- I hope Diane understands what I mean."

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  4. Hey, Elizabeth. I'm really talking more about young laypersons-- it didn't occur to me that it might look like I was suggesting that anyone wanted the pastor to "just show up."

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  5. Sorry to sound cynical but churches want young people to
    -do the heavy lifting but not make major decisions.
    -provide children for those ever so entertaining children's sermons.
    -provide children for the nativity play.
    -fill the seats and fill the coffers.

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  6. I hate it when I think this about myself, but here goes:
    I think God is at work with you (well, duh) but specifically in your walk with the Episcopal Church. It's harder to follow a path that is not well-trod, but I do believe that God wants your voice to be heard. Of course, I think the Church needs to listen.

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  7. You know, there were a few things in my process that were genuinely bad, but there was a lot that the diocese did beautifully. Ultimately, I really believe that was just not the right place for me. My spirituality is, in a lot of ways, much more evangelical.

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"So keep fightin' for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don't you forget to have fun doin' it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin' ass and celebratin' the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was."
-Saint Molly Ivins