Some people see a preponderance of older people–who often have gray hair–in a congregation, as a liability and a turn-off. Having known and loved so many gray-haired saints, and now being gray-haired myself, I see their presence as an asset and a gift to the church. I was delighted to come across an article by someone who agrees. It’s entitled “The Gift of Gray Hairs,” and the author is Diane Roth, a Lutheran pastor in Minnesota. I resonated as she described scenes like the following:
“There is a teenage young woman who sits at worship every Sunday with an older retired woman and her friends. The young woman is training as a singer: she sang “Pie Jesu” at our Good Friday Service. The older women recently gave her a gift: a number of opera librettos.
“After worship, one day, one of our young parents was in tears. I had announced the death of one of our older members that morning. I checked in with the young woman, concerned about why she was crying. “I’m sad about Pearl,” she said. Pearl used to sit near their family and interacted with her children nearly every Sunday.”
The author notes three ways in particular in which older adults can enrich the life of a congregation:
1. Mature faith and a lifetime of stories to tell about what living out that faith means in all kinds of situations.
2. Older adults often have a sense of clarity about what is truly important and can be more willing to let go of sacred cows than many younger folk.
3. Younger people need the experience of being around older people and all the realities that often accompany living a long life, such as coping with frailty. If we are blessed with a long life, that’s where we will be one day.
My ideal church has people of all ages in it, with people loving and learning cross-generationally. We can bless one another! I don’t think it is healthy for the generations to live segregated lives. So many institutions in society segregate us. We find the young in school, and we find the old in retirement communities. The church is just about the only place in society where young and old can be in close relationship with one another. Moreover, it’s not difficult for younger people to find friends their own age. What’s more difficult is for them to have the opportunity to know older adults well, since in contemporary society, extended families often live many miles apart and young and old don’t interact as often as they once did.
I hope as I get older that younger people will still want to be friends with me, and will still want to be around me. I hope I will have the opportunity to bless many, many younger people before I join the Church Triumphant.