Thursday, May 31, 2012

On the Other Hand, Some of the Most Open-minded, Progressive, Intriguing People I know are over 65

Reaching Out To Young Adults Will Screw Up Your Church, wrote Adam Copeland recently.  He's gotten a lot of great conversation going about what's wrong with the church these days, what young people bring, what it means to belong before you believe, and the danger and necessity of change.

Still, when I read his post, I wanted to share some stories:

Last fall I met a couple of older women at a Writing Conference held at a progressive church.  We had a great conversation over lunch.  I did confess, at one point, that I was a pastor.  One of the women told me that though she was very active in social ministries, she no longer attended a church, and sort of felt an aversion to it.  She had grown up Pentecostal and felt that she had enough church then for the entire rest of her life.

I used to visit a retired pastor and his wife every month, to bring them communion.  She was in a nursing home suffering from Alzheimer's disease; he visited her faithfully every day.  He was a pretty conservative, confessional Lutheran, but always with a commitment to social justice.  One day we broached the subject of the ELCA's position on ordaining gays and lesbians in committed relationships.  (This was before the 2009 vote.)  After beating around the bush for a little while, I came out and asked him, "What do you think we should do?"  He answered, "I think we should ordain them!" 

One of our part-time receptionists is an 85 year old woman who comes in to help with bookkeeping and building management.  She loves all kinds of  Bible study, including the rigorous historical critical study that our senior pastor used to give.  She is very open to change in our congregation, and once mused to me that the fear of change of some of the other older members of our congregation is not so much a function of their age, but of the length of their tenure in the congregation.

On the other hand, a young woman I'm friends with said to me that she was looking for a church with traditional worsihp, but a progressive sermon.

I suppose that my points are that: 1)  it's true, reaching out to young adults will screw up your church, but that perhaps reaching out to anyone new who is at all different than you will screw up your church.  Immigrants.  Poor people.  People who are not native to Your Particular Denomination or your Political Orientation.  But, it's possible that this will be the Holy Spirit at work.

2)  It is true that often-times churches are not open to the ideas, doubts and questions that younger adults bring.  It is also true that churches are not always open to the ideas, doubts and questions that new-comers bring, whatever their age.  I actually think that this is an a more accurate (and sadder) statement.

3)  It is true that not all young people like contemporary worship, or traditional worship, or ask the same questions or have the same ideas.  It is also true that not all old people like the same things either.  God hates stereotypes, and will blow them apart, and perhaps screw up your church. 

4)  It is true that the general culture outside the church values youth and de-values age.  In our earnest and well-meaning attempts to screw up the church by reaching out to young people, I hope we do not de-value the very real gifts that older adults bring.


Fran said...

Gosh Diane, this post is filled with so much wisdom. I am going to have to sit with this for awhile. I am also going to share the post, we all have so much to learn, at every age.

Diane said...

thanks, Fran. I am thinking about a lot these days, but do not have as much time to write as I'd like. I actually loved Adam's blog, and think he's right, but I do worry that the church is one of the few places left that actually values older people. the problem is that we stereotype them, and don't always really listen to them....

of course, we all have assumptions about EACH OTHER in the church as well...

Wormwood's Doxy said...

I keep thinking about this too....

On the other hand, a young woman I'm friends with said to me that she was looking for a church with traditional worsihp, but a progressive sermon.

I'm not young anymore, but this is me. And I confess I'm getting sick and tired of all the demands for change in our worship. I LIKE liturgy and high-church music and the organ and vestments. For whatever reason, they make me feel worshipful in a way that "praise music" and loosey-goosey services do not.

No church can be all things to all people. What's wrong with just saying "This is who we are"? For probably the vast majority of people in this country, there is another type of church just up the road that might be more to their taste. Why do we always have to be changing to suit some imagined fad or to bring some mythical "unchurched" person in?

I know I sound like a curmudgeon. It's not as if I believe there is only one "right way" to "do church." But there is a way that works better for me--that makes me want to get up and go to church on Sunday morning instead of sleeping in. Is that so wrong? And am I wrong to resist attempts to change what I love and find spiritually valuable?


Fran said...

@Doxy, of course there is no one right way to "do" church, but I guess the question for me becomes, how we find different ways of being church, rather than doing. Am I nitpicking? Maybe. It has happened before.

To that end, how we "are church" becomes far more challenging for all of us at every age. It would seem that we would all find reasons to resist the changes that are demanded of us, no matter what our age. This is just what I posit, but it is why I think (and OCICBW) it is more about being than doing.

But hey, that's just me. And why I'm not so sure that the younger/older conversation is about worship alone.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Fran--can you say more about what you mean by "being church"? I'm intrigued...

Fran said...

Hello Doxy! Well, I never think of church as an institution alone, or a building. I think of church in the light of the Greek, ekklesia, or assembly. So for me, "being" church is a much better way of experiencing worship and all associated ministry.

And being Catholic and a very liturgically inclined person , this works into my eucharistic theology. We don't go to "get," "receive," or "take" communion alone. Yes, I do all of those things, but what is really happening is what I bring to communion, i.e. - what do I offer to God? As a result, the same thing happens for me - I see us as a body literally "re-membering" itself.

It is all about relationship, no matter what, that is why it is so hard.

Does any of this make sense.

Diane said...

Hi Doxy -- you and Fran are having such a good conversation! I thought I'd weigh in.

Adam's original post about creating space for young adults actually had very little (maybe nothing) to do with contemporary worship, and a lot more with being open to ambiguity and questions and belonging before believing.

As a person who enjoys both certain kinds of contemporary worship (done well) (this may be due to my brief stint among the Pentecostals), and also liturgical worship, I get frustrated actually mostly by the way people are characterized and stereotyped. We assume young people or old people or middle-aged people like or don't like or believe or don't believe certain things, but we don't ask them.

Part of being the community of the church is to create space where we can know each other, at least a little, and respect that we ARE different, even sharing the same faith.

I'm thinking right now about this Bible Reading Group I started on facebook. It only has a few commenters now, but if more people weigh in, well, there are some pretty different Biblical perspectives out there. So, how will we deal with that?

Okay, I'm rambling now. I should just right another blog post.

Di said...

Yep, me too. I dearly love an 82-year old man who likes to introduce me to people by telling them that we went to college together, 50 years and 20 miles apart. In fact, I wish there were a way to let you know in this tiny box how much he means to me.

Diane said...

Di -- what I want to say to your comment is "like."