A short time ago, I accepted an offer to preach at Wilmot Mennonite Church about PiE. Wilmot is a small, aging church outside of New Hamburg, and the word on the street was that it is an “old & dying congregation”. The youngest person in the congregation is 55 years old, and like many rural churches, it struggles to draw new people into its community. My expectations were low.
When I visited, I was surprised to learn that there was so much more to this church than “aging & dying”. As soon as I walked in I could sense a pleasant spirit; I saw people happy to be at church, people who were still very much alive and gracious to each other. I met many grandparents of friends and acquantices from my generation. Throughout their service laughter filled the sanctuary – a self-deprecating laugh that said no we don’t have the slickest production, but we do enjoy gathering to worship together! I found it easy to preach with energy in this congregation – and they appreciated my energy.
They also used part of the sharing time to thank an elderly man for his many years of serving coffee after the service – and I was surprised to learn that they have used fair-trade coffee for almost 35 years! That was a long time before it was fashionable.
During their discussion hour, they were finishing up a discussion on indigenous issues and the church, through a reading of Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry. This church may be a bit older, but there are many in the congregation who still have a passion for learning and understanding. They still allow themselves to be challenged & changed by the marginalized voices – they haven’t sailed off into retirement from living the good news!
I went away once again convicted of my own shortcomings; once again, I boxed in an aging congregation into my own stereotypes. Just because a church is old, doesn’t mean it cannot be a life-giving place to be in. I find this time and time again when I do services at retirement & nursing homes; the elderly still have so much joy, giving & affirmation to give. I come away often a more joyful person.
I wonder if part of my generation’s issues with identity, self-esteem, and meaning is related to how little time we spend with older people. We always have to be on the cutting edge, but in the process we can lose our grounding. How do we know where we are going if we’re afraid to engage with where we come from?
What are the boxes you put other generations into? How can you open up to what they have to share with you, or the relationship they have to offer? How can you push yourself to make that happen? Push yourself out of your comfort zone and reach out to someone in an age bracket you least connect with – you may be surprised at who you discover!