December 18, 2018
When I was a young, 30ish pastor in Fresno, my colleague and I started a book and bible study at a nearby Senior Residential facility named San Joaquin Gardens. We had about 25 residents living there, some of whom could not make it worship on Sundays. I naively thought it would be a rather humdrum affair. How intellectually stimulating could a group of octogenarians be after all? (remember, in my own mind I was a hip, bright and worldly thirty something pastor!) I quickly discovered the group to be incredible; full of intellectual curiosity and replete with lifetimes of stories about their faith, their work for justice and their experience in Christian community. It was an eye opening, heart expanding experience that set me on a path of deep appreciation for the value of elders in the church.
So often in the church, great weight is put on attracting young families or young adults. This is fine and important, to be sure. What I want to say, however, is that the value of church elders cannot be underestimated. Last week, I shared two thoughts along this line of thinking with our Over 55 group.
First of all, embedded
within our elders are decades of faithful living. In the long journey of seeking justice and building community, we have the deep and lengthy experience of people who ground our community. To live into one’s 80’s, one has to learn how to change and adapt just to drive a car or make a phone call. In the same way, our elders have been adapting, changing, exploring, debating and praying longer than many in the church have been alive. With this experience comes wisdom, patience, and even some humor. With years of fighting for God’s people — especially the marginalized — comes grit and hope that is essential to younger generations facing disillusionment or confusion for the first time. It is my hope that the elders of the church will continue to be honored for what they bring and what they have to share with all the succeeding generations.
Secondly, our elders are accustomed to a lifetime of welcoming others. They’ve welcomed new family members, new neighbors, new work colleagues and indeed, new church members and pastors. Whether or not they’ve been in this church all their lives, they know the power of welcome and greeting. They know the value of making new friends and learning about new people in their lives. With this history, it is my hope that you elders in the congregation (as well as those in other generations) will exercise that great gift of welcome to those who follow me. It is my hope that you will welcome the interim pastor and the new senior pastor; seeking to enjoy what they bring to this new era in church life. It is an ancient practice in our faith tradition — that of welcoming the stranger. At the same time, it is a supremely important gift in the present.
Thanks for all you’ve been to me, all you’ve given me and all that you’ve meant to my family.