I recently observed a birthday and I’m trying to confront that I am now officially in my late forties—or, as my husband would insist, in my very late forties.
In terms of my age and my relationship with ministry, I have two thoughts that have been swimming around in my head in a big way.
The first is, that despite what seems like my clearly advancing age, I remain one of the youngest members of the congregation I serve. I wonder sometimes if this could be a marketing point for my church, and others like mine. It could go something like this: “Are you under the age of sixty and want to feel young? Come to church!” “Want to feel young again? Come hang out with some old people at church!”
You know, something like that.
The longer I serve the church, the more I notice that I am among the youngest members. It’s like I am a member of the last wave of people to be any part of church; there’s no one following. And now that I am getting older, it’s a lot more noticeable that there just are not any younger people coming to church—at least not many of them.
While being younger can be a positive experience, it also causes me a great deal of worry and concern. If I’m really among the youngest—and I am a part of a small group—what really is going to happen to the church over not just the long-term, but what about the short-term?
And, the other thought that’s swimming in my head, and swims around often these days, is a related point. I am the youngest ordained minister serving a UCC church in my association—and that’s been true for almost five years now. And, I am the youngest by more than a decade.
It’s lonely being me. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy—well, maybe a little—but to suggest that it may signal something much deeper and problematic.
It’s nice to feel young, certainly, but it’s also very isolating. I’m in a very different stage of life than my colleagues. I still have children under 18 at home, for instance. Most, if not all, of my colleagues are grandparents. But, in terms of years in ministry, I’m among the “oldest.” Many of my colleagues have been ordained in the last ten years or so, while I’ve been ordained almost twenty years.
I’ve been noticing an increasing group of people who look to ordained ministry as a good “retirement” kind of thing to do. I don’t want to suggest that these ministries are not valuable, but I do wonder about the health and well-being of a church with no, or not many, ordained pastors under the age of fifty.
Diversity of age is not only a good thing, it may be a very important thing. So, I’m wondering about age and the church, and trying to find some hope in a not so hopeful looking future. Might I find some people like me who want to feel younger and may want to get that feeling by coming to church or will I remain among the youngest members of my church even when I’m sixty-four, or more?