I’ll start by considering the very young: we have those fidgety, fussy munchkins clambering over and around the pews. Admittedly, there are places where this is embraced; a friend’s parish welcomes the parents/grandparents of little ones with a sign that says: “Relax! God put the wiggle in children, so please don’t feel you need to suppress it here in God’s house.”
However, I’ve also seen places where parents are given nasty glances, comments are made (a friend was told her son should be locked in a cage!), or the more genteel comment that maybe they should just be removed so as not to disturb others.
It’s a fine balance of introducing children to the wonders of worship while recognising that it can be very difficult for children to be put into an adult situation.
I have a number of challenges with the places where children are excluded. Firstly, they are being EXCLUDED. From church. From community. In the news this week, from a citizenship ceremony. If that continues to happen, these children are unlikely to feel welcomed, to feel included. Furthermore, they will not learn about what is happening, because they haven’t been allowed to experience it. By extension, their parents/grandparents are also going to feel this exclusion from the community.
Sunday Schools and Youth Groups can be helpful in finding age appropriate ways for faith nurture and worship. These need to be careful, however, to not isolate these ages from the corporate worship, but to find ways that embrace truly intergenerational experiences.
Culturally, it’s awkward. Scripturally, however, we hear a different story. In today’s gospel (Luke 2.22-40), Jesus – like all young Jews – is intentionally brought INTO the temple, into the worship, into the community. And thanks is given; openly, loudly, faithfully.
At the other end of the ‘age’ spectrum, we must face the reality of the elderly. Culturally, we don’t like to talk about getting old. “Long in the tooth, over the hill, past their prime, in the golden years, of a finer vintage, recycled teenager,” &c. This societal demographic is another one we as a culture aren’t necessarily keen to speak about. It can be difficult and painful to witness decline in our loved ones.
Anthropologist Jared Diamond has suggested that western society does not value it’s elderly, and treat them horribly; many reports and studies in Canada suggest that our social structures are not prepared to deal with the “silver tsunami” of our demographics. Of course there are great examples of good care; yet overall as a culture we can be found guilty of ignoring the wisdom and dignity and example of our seniors.
Yet – scripturally, again – we are reminded of the gift of the elderly; those who have much to offer. Simeon and Anna, praying at the temple – as a colleague of mine joked, these are the coffin-dodgers. These are the folks who are held up as examples of the faithful today, those whose efforts are to encourage this community. They are prophetic, they are devout, they are the ones who hold up and declare the presence of the holy. And thanks is given.
I wonder if our invitation from this scripture passage is to examine, reflect, and learn. I think we’re being challenged to look outside the box, to recognise how God speaks to us through all ages – because, God willing, we will all pass through all of these ages.
Perhaps this scripture is a gentle reminder to us to embrace the whole family; the young and the old, the fidgety and the calm, the runners and the slow-walkers. Perhaps the scripture is reminding us again, especially in this season of family get-togethers, that we are all wanted in the community. We are all to be welcomed, embraced, involved: that’s what being church is all about.
And in that way the church is unique: it is one of the few places in society that still encourages fully intergenerational and multigenerational community; where we can share information, experience, tradition, and faith. It is a place where we should be able to come and delight in the presence of God and one another. Perhaps this is the church’s reminder that we have this gift to give to the world; perhaps this is our reminder to give it freely.