My church, like loads of others, is overwhelmingly made up of pensioners. It’s a good microcosm of society at large. I love my church and the people in it. It’s not just (just!) the preaching and teaching and discipling that brings me back week after week, it’s them … the people in the pews. I’m going to sound like a right megalomaniac now, but you know what I love? LOVE? I love standing at the front of the church and looking at them. I do. I don’t mean I like speaking particularly, or the job I’m there to do, but those first few moments of turning and looking at them – BOY! My heart sings. I used to do something we called ‘the notices’ every few weeks, just reeling off a few things for us all to remember, and I loved that. I am a simple soul.
I’ve never belonged anywhere before, that’s the thing.
I learned to drive when I was 18, in the Military Police, but I didn’t have a car of my own until I was 40. When I started writing the first thing we bought was my bright yellow Astra. My car now is a bright yellow Clio (you can take the girl out of the council estate but you can’t take the council estate out of the girl!) When I at last had my own set of wheels, you couldn’t hold me back. One year I clocked up 30,000 miles and I loved every one of them. That’s a bit like how it’s been finding a church family. It’s taken me a long time to belong anywhere at all but now that I do, I’m going to enjoy every twist and turn along the way. Even the bumpy bits.
So, back to my elderly mates at church. Them and me. I suppose we must make up, erm, well, I’m no good at percentages but it’s one hell of a lot. The local population is heavily loaded towards the graveyard shift; the locals who grew up here are wildly outnumbered by the outsiders who retire here, so it’s only natural that church should reflect the age imbalance. It certainly does so – with brass knobs on! And that creates a challenge.
What do we, as a society, do about our ever increasing population of old people? Do we make them an integral part of our daily life or do we bung them into sheltered accommodation at the first opportunity? Society says the latter. We have small villages like that in my town: estates made up of tiny bungalows, uniform, sprouting up in the shadow of the care homes the residents will move to when they are too frail to look after themselves.
What model should the church follow for our old people. What model should I follow as a 70 year old? Am I happy to sit in the pews with a few cushions and snooze my life away, a cosy dormouse disturbing no-one? Is it enough that I turn up for coffee mornings? Or on a Sunday to be fed the sweet milk of scripture but never to share in the nurturing, the discipling, the leading of the church?
Psalm 92 tells us that we will ‘still yield fruit in old age’ and in Job that we will ‘Come to the grave in full vigour, like the stacking of grain in its season.’ What a picture of plenty that is! But the context of that lovely grain image is just a bit less cosy – ‘blessed is the one whom God corrects…. He will come to the grave in full vigour.’
So, as a 70 year old, I’m still ‘en route’. I am still to be corrected. God hasn’t finished with me yet (yeah, OK, less of the ‘obviously’) and old age is no excuse. However old I am, I have to be teachable, humble, obedient, accepting of authority that comes from God. If the leadership is following Biblical teaching, it’s my role to obey. Just like everyone else. There’s no let-out clause for the old. I don’t get a ‘sit in the back with your lips pursed and disapprove of everything ‘ card.
Old people, like me, we can be so bloody minded and cantankerous and resentful of change. That’s OK for a cartoon character, or a ‘loveable’ character actor in some tired BBC play, but it isn’t OK for a Christian. That’s not Christ-like. As the elderly population grows, so do the grumbles. Is this as inevitable in the church as it seems to be in society? It can’t be, because it doesn’t glorify God and our job is to do exactly that. He has given us all we need to glorify Him so why are we tailing off at the end of our lives? Retiring from active Christianity. That can’t be right!
Which am I? Victor Meldrew or Mother Theresa? I’ll give you a clue – I’m not Mother Theresa.
That ‘full vigour’ bit… am I fruitful and vigorous, outward looking, teachable, submitted and visionary or am I hankering after a care package where I’ll be tolerated, cared for, and allowed to bake cakes ? (Don’t start me on the ‘baking cakes thing’, or we’ll be here all night).
When was the last time I heard someone over 70 saying “I’m starting a new career” or “I would like to retrain” or “I’ve always wanted to play the euphonium so I’m giving it a go’? Where is the elderly person who says to the leadership team ‘Shove over a bit… is there room in there for me?’
Am I going to say any of these things? I blinkin’ well hope so (OK, not the euphonium – don’t be silly.) Did Jesus stop transforming my life last December when I turned 70? No! Or maybe He will call a halt to my growth when I’m 75? No! Should I be content with daytime telly and coffee mornings while every day there are the funerals of the unsaved? What is my responsibility as I get older? To draw the curtains and turn up the telly so that reality doesn’t intrude? Am I excused the command to preach the gospel? ‘Did Jesus say ‘Go and make disciples of all nations, if you’re under pensionable age’?
I want to be part of an active and growing church, myself growing not stagnating. I have a long way still to grow and I’m no good at the things I want to do but that’s OK – you’re never too old to learn. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but we’re not dogs, we’re children of God. I don’t want to rot quietly in a cosy dumping ground, stultified, marking time, waiting for death. Christ wants more from us than that. I want more from Christ than that. 1John 3:18 ‘let us not love with words or speech but with action’
And, hang on – pull over that soap box – help me up; I’m tired of looking only to the young for life and vitality, seeing them held up as an encouragement to the old – yet another saved youngster brought to the front to tell his story, while the 80 year old in the back pew wipes away a sentimental tear, but has nothing of her own to say. It’s great that the young encourage the old, but for Pete’s sake – it works the other way around too. Or it should. God worked miracles in the 1960’s and 70’s and 80’s. Flip me!! It’s not like He’s only just started. We all have stories to tell, it’s time to stand up and shout about what God has done in our lives. The leadership can’t do this for us, that’s our job.
Bum. I was going to be nice. I wasn’t going to get bossy and horrible. And cross. And here I am being bossy and horrible. And cross.
But listen, surely there should be as much praise and wonder in the life of an octagarian as there is in the life of a teenager? We have the same God and He does the work, not us. If we have nothing to say about God’s great transforming power this week, this day, this year, then maybe there is something wrong somewhere.
And you know the really really great thing? Something I’ve discovered just this last few months? When I go to the front and turn and look at the people in my church, and feel a great surge of love for them, loads of them look back at me and feel that same love. Isn’t that amazing? So, I can be brave and try new things, because when I fail they forgive me. They pick me up, dust me down and say “Oh, Luce…. what are you like?” So anything I do, anything God moves me to do, it’s enabled by God and by the people around me. No wonder I like being in God’s house, looking at God’s people. It’s a great place to be.
I don’t want to fail my God and my church. I want to be held to account, and counted, I want to be challenged, and enabled and encouraged. I want life and I want it abundantly. Proper abundantly! I want to point the way to Jesus. That way…… look…. there He is…. look!
I wanted to talk about Mary Magdalene. I’ve run out of words. She’ll have to wait. But she loved our Lord. Didn’t she? She did. Maybe that’s for tomorrow.
For now, a cup of tea and bed. Thanking God for a lovely day.