I’m thinking about birthdays today, for a number of reasons. A good friend is celebrating a landmark birthday (apparently he celebrated abundantly last night and is today sleeping it off). In church this morning we celebrated one lady’s landmark birthday, with her family joining us from near and far. And we celebrated a baptism this morning, so another beloved child of God now has a spiritual re-birthday.
So I think back to some of my birthdays – some I’ve forgotten (no really), others I’ve celebrated with friends, others with parties and fundraisers. But inevitably, when we think about birthdays, we have to think about age. And THAT is a topic I’ve had come up several times this week!
Our culture seems to be one that’s obsessed with age. And I don’t just mean in the “Eternal Youth is Worth a Little Suffering” kind of way (from the musical Sunset Boulevard, as beauticians execute all manner of ‘age-defying’ techniques on the faded movie star of yesteryear).
My experiences this past week have been in complimentary conversations where the person has said something along the lines of “…for someone your age…” or “…for someone so young…” To be sure, I am NOT that young. I’ve been blessed with a youthful appearance, but it’s been decades since I was mistaken for a teenager.
We experience ageism in our culture. And much of it is cultural: other cultures did not experience the post WWII population Boom/Bust/Echo effect, and so do not have the disproportionate age cohorts we have. But have them we do: and our response can be unintentionally off-putting.
Some examples from my experience.
- “You’re young compared to me!” – this doesn’t mean I’m ‘youth’.
- “You’ll understand once you’re older” – as though my life experience thus far is inconsequential.
- “It’s different once you’ve workedin the church for a while – you’ll see” – this one came from a newly-ordained person who erroneously presumed much.
I’ve heard from other folks that they have opted not to come to a particular church because they were treated like children, or considered to be “the youth,” just because they were in the not-yet-retired age cohort. They were not taken seriously for who they were, they were simply judged based on the number of birthdays they’d celebrated.
Young people are just as unique and gifted as not-so-young people, and I think they might feel more welcome if they were invited to simply BE – not be a representative of a generation, not be patronized because they don’t have grey hair. I think maybe that’s something the church can give to the world in this day and age when ageism is such a pervasive reality – a place where everyone is respected for who they are and the ministry they offer. After all – Jesus was in his early 30s when he set about to change the world, and look what he accomplished. Imagine how different the world would have been had He been chastised for being “too young” to do anything significant.
Have you experienced ageism in the church? Do you have a worshiping community that is truly intergenerational?