A post in a thread on Michael Spencer’s Internet Monk blog:
Jeff: “More experienced, mature Christians who should be teaching the young about and sharing with them their great Christian heritage are instead asked to ‘get with it’ or ‘get out.’”
Imonk: “I’m watching a father bring his 5 year old (?) to mass, take his hand and dip it in the water, make the cross for him, then take him to his seat and show him how to genuflect. … I am especially impressed with how a small child and an 80 year old man are functioning within the same world of thought, ritual and understanding. … I see evangelicals doing less and less that will hold anyone in the faith into their 80s. If I were 80, I wouldn’t go near 99% of evangelical churches.”
I’ve noticed that much of the discussion along these lines in this thread has tended towards the “yes, it is tragic, without older people in the congregation we are losing the wisdom of the sages of the faith” line of thought. And I would agree that is certainly true. But I wonder if it is only half the tragedy of the picture that contains very few elderly (and even somewhat younger than outright elderly).
I wonder if the other half of that picture is that the grandpa whose brain’s speech center has been ravaged by stroke can still teach his 5 year old grandson to make the sign of the cross and genuflect. (I’m having trouble coming up with anything non-verbal in my own protestant tradition.) The grandma suffering from Alzheimer’s still has the light go on when the hymn she learned as a child is sung. The aging man crotchety from arthritis pain or the aging woman fragile with osteoporosis or the person being consumed with cancer – who really aren’t able or suitable to pal around with the youth, or teach the kid’s classes, or even help stack the chairs or take up the offering anymore – can be in the midst of the congregation, seen and heard singing the Doxology in a way that can only come out of intense struggle with the meaning of the same words over and over in the midst of long term pain and hardship.
Of course, all of the above is a form of the older teaching the younger, too. But I doubt it is the first image of “teaching the younger” that comes to mind even to those younger folk sympathetic to the idea of older folk having a role in a congregation. And, in the current situation that iMonk describes for the elderly within evangelicalism, I also suspect that the loss is not just the younger missing out on the wisdom of the older. There is also the effect on the elderly who feel rejected for uselessness or who lose contact with younger people.
With my mostly non-liturgical protestant background, I struggled to come up with the examples I gave above. Is it easier for those of you with long-term liturgical formation to come up with examples of continued meaningful participation by the elderly that you have seen in real life? Or am I just seeing greener grass on the other side of the fence in hoping there could possibly be contributing place for me in the midst of some congregation somewhere if (when?) I end up a non-sagely, non-productive, frail, and/or mentally diminished elderly (or even not so elderly) person at some point in life? From my middle-aged vantage point, I’m not seeing a happy path forward at the present time.
prompts me to wonder: Is the “sanctity of life from conception until natural death” believed if not modeled in the life of our congregation or parish?