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laura giddey: those silvery haired senior citizens

I am currently on summer placement in a small but well established church in a big, busy city far from home.  To set some context, each week I lead and preach at our one Sunday morning service to a group of about 40 people.  Half of these people are over the age of 70 and many have been going to the church for up to four times my lifetime.  This does not intimidate me.  I feel certain that as God has worked in these people’s lives for up to 70 years so far, He will continue to do so.  He will sift through any meagre words that I might share. Any funny theology or odd illustrations from me will not put any of them off the faith or off God.  Realising this manages to encourage and humble me often.

But preaching to this group of people has challenged me in another way.  I am used to thinking about the context into which I am preaching – usually children, youth and young adults.  But how do I preach to a wise group of silver-haired senior citizens?  What can I possibly say to them by way of hope and challenge?  What does the gospel say to these people?  What did, or would Jesus say to them?

Visiting the older members of my congregation has helped me think through these questions.  This is because I suddenly see these older folk as more than ‘a gaggle of oldies’ (is there an appropriate collective noun here?!) but as individuals with stories and hopes and unique faith journeys.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them but Roger and Maureen have been married for 60 years and now, as Maureen slips slowly into Alzheimers’, Roger follows behind her finishing her forgotten sentences and picking up her discarded memories.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them but Ann used to ride a motorbike and Margaret has no children but a goddaughter who sends her sticker-covered calendars and photos and pictures.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them but Arnold knows every number of every hymn in the Baptist Hymnal and Susan has had her poetry published in the past.

You wouldn’t know it to look at them but Max and Mary left the city and pastored a struggling church for 20 years before Max passed away and Mary moved back here, alone.

And what does the Gospel of Jesus Christ say to these people?  I’m thinking that it gives a pretty similar message to my congregation as to the rest of us.  Perhaps they need more encouragement and special support in their final years and as they struggle with losing loved ones, independence and confidence.  But John 3:16 says, in my unofficial paraphrase, that the almighty and all-loving God so loved the world, that is, the young and young at heart, that he gave His only, treasured Son so that all who may believe in Him would not die but have life forever with Him.  This message brings hope and challenge to us all regardless of age or stage in life.

Thoughts?

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Laura is a pastor in training getting ready for her final year at Carey Baptist College.

8 Comments

  1. Ryan says:

    Great stuff Laura. Sounds like your time there in quite a different situation has been really useful in giving you new perspectives. Keep it up.

    Ryan

  2. Myk Habets says:

    Awesome Laura! Thanks. A timely reminder of a few things – that youth is no impediment to the Gospel, that octogenarians are no impediment to the Gospel, and that the Gospel is Good News for all image bearers. Thanks. Something to think about as we step into the pulpit week after week. Bless you.

  3. Yeah, Laura, good timing for me as well – I’m preaching at a church this weekend that I think has a slightly more ‘silvery’ demographic – and your post has encouraged me to be all the more intentional in trying to connect with them (whilst not taking the sting out of the tail – to refer to Jonathan’s post!) 🙂 thanks!

  4. helen butcher says:

    Hi, I work with elderly as a community support worker with a large oprganisation. I absolutely love what you describe. I am a Christian and really love my elderly folk. I pray every day that I will bring God’s love and encouragement to each of my clients. It is a special ministry and I feel very passionate about it. Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement.

    Helen

  5. Shannon Richmond says:

    Hi Laura – a great post. I, like the other respondents, appreciate your sentiments regards the older members of our respective congregations. It is often them who graciously make way/compromise as we look to incorporate the younger members. Whether it be the musical style or with the programmes that we run – the young seem to dominate our thinking. I suspect that Jesus was not looking at the age of his followers but at the condition of their heart and as you say the gospel message is applicable to all. I long to see churches becoming more inter-generational, inter-racial etc. Older people have so much to offer and it is up to those of us in positions of leadership to encourage and ask them to bring that wisdom to the table.
    a little story…i regularly preach at a smaller country church that we have relationship with. The demographic is more silver than brunette and their head elder is a man in his late 70’s. I had delivered a christmas message and jokingly suggested that frankincense may have been useful for nappy rash for the baby Jesus. Cyril approached me after the service and very seriously asked me whether i actually thought Jesus wore nappies – i wasn’t sure how to take him and answered ..well no. To which he said .. well i do – afterall the wisemen brought him treasues (nappies). A lesson for me not to pre-judge what older people think of younger people preaching – keep up the good work – thanks again for your thoughts.

  6. Paul Windsor says:

    In an era where Childrens’ Ministry is gaining a needed and greater profile in our churches as we hear its advocates reach for that anthem of theirs: “Children are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.”

    Yes! Ne’er a truer word…
    But there is still an equally true word with which we must wrestle equally hard with another anthem: “Silvery-haired senior citizens are not the church of yesterday, they are the church of today too.”

    Now – what does that mean for our preaching? There are implications for things like our diction and volume; illustrations that build rapport with them … and probably a stronger dose of preaching the Bible because they tend to like it like that!

    Thanks Laura
    You’ve got a lot of us thinking

  7. Thanks for this, Laura. Great post!

    I particularly love your ‘You wouldn’t know it to look at them…’ litany. I’ve just read Barbara Kingsolver’s new book, Lacuna. Not her best work, I say reluctantly, partly because the theme of the book is stated so clearly, so often, but it has certainly stayed with me.

    Several times her protagonist notices that ‘the most important thing about a person is always the thing you don’t know.’

    In pastoral-care-and-preaching, I often forget to remember that.

  8. George Wieland says:

    Right on target Thalia. And although you obviously don’t know WHAT you don’t know, you can know THAT you don’t know, and that awareness makes the space for beginning to learn some of the WHAT. I think that in pastoring and in preaching (in fact, in all relating) we need a warning buzzer to sound in our heads when we’re about to grab a few superficial clues and fill in for ourselves what we don’t know about a person, or a group, or a congregation. It’s knowing that we don’t know that keeps us open to them, and to God for them.

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