living it up at the lido

I took my parents to see Miss Potter at the Lido in Auckland. As we walked through the doors into their intimate little cinema on the ground floor I saw a sight I will never ever forget. The front row is lined with these luxurious laz-e-boy chairs. Leaning all the way back in them with chairs extended and feet stretching up onto foot-rests was a row of elderly women. When we settled into the cheap seats further back all we could see were these six pairs of delicate feet and ankles sticking out over the top. They looked very content as they shuffled out after the movie!

I've been thinking a lot about those women living it up at the Lido. Would they ever be able to live it up within the orbit of the church? I wonder... How is it going with the elderly in churches today?

Well...

If the gospel really is real, then it will seek out barriers between people and melt them. Paul spoke about the ethnic barrier between Jew and Gentile and how the two become one in Christ. Does the age barrier - between younger and older - need to receive the same treatment by the gospel today? There is not a lot that is miraculous about like-minded people from one generation hanging-out together.

If human beings really are made in the image of God, then they are always and forever to be prized ... even when they grow old. Prizing the elderly means listening to their stories, taking their minds seriously, loving them enough to sing their songs, taking them out on dates, mentoring them in the art of the internet ... on and on it goes. It is common for children and youth workers to say that 'children and young people are not the church of tomorrow, they are the church of today.' True! Very true... But it works both ways. Neither are the elderly the church of yesterday. They too are the church of today.

If wisdom really does come from experience, then wrinkles and grey hair should be a magnet for the rest of us. The elderly have watched the pendulum swing back and forth a few times. To find the still-teachable, still-moveable elderly is to find one of God's great gifts. We need to keep an eye on Maori, Polynesian, and Asian peoples and learn from them. They do this better than the rest of us. We are so good at pointing out the blindspots of previous eras. What are they going to say about our era? Maybe ... "They were so addicted to the contemporary. They made an idol of relevance. They lived in the present. They neither knew how to remember the past or to hope for a future."

If eternity really does matter, then my maths tells me that on average the elderly are closer to meeting their Maker and confronting eternity than the rest of us. If this is the case - and eternity matters - shouldn't the elderly be receiving some priority in our mission and evangelism?


But then maybe all these reflections are unnecessary. Maybe those elderly women living it up at the Lido were on a church outing - maybe one where the gospel is real, where all human beings have dignity, where the wisdom of experience is valued, and where eternity really matters?

nice chatting

Paul

Comments

P-Style said…
Paul,

Just linked to your blog for the first time thanks to Sam Harvey (mrharvey.blogspot.com). For some reason that guy always seems to find the gems.

Loving the article on the elderly. It's totally counter-cultural, and toatlly worth the kilobytes. Cheers.
Shannon said…
Hi Paul,
I came to Carey a few years ago for your preaching block course and thoroughly enjoyed it, so when i stumbled across your blog - i must say it was a pleasant 'stumbling'. I couldn't agree more with your comments. Cross-generational relationships seem to be a phenomena that left the church sometime in the 90's and we are only poorer for it. I sometimes wonder whether by trying to cater to the needs of individual groups that all we have done is isolate them from others. It sometimes seems there is a group for every subsector of society (young couples, newly marrieds, uni students, dog owners etc etc)but no group where you can just go along and have a cross-section of society whether it be gender or age or ethnicity or stage of life.
At Gateway we have been trying to find an effective way to get this happening in a natural way by encouraging our youth leaders to get older members of the congregation along to share their wisdom in their small groups and at larger gatherings.
The feedback from the young people has been very positive and encouraging.
but it doesn't seem an easy thing to do - i wonder if we (the church) have spent so much time worrying about getting young people into the church that we have subconsciously sent a message to the older members that communicates something of a lesser value to them. but hey i could go on - those are my thoughts in short - so thanks again for your blog and your thoughts - well worth reading.
Paul Windsor said…
Yes, good stuff ... being counter-cultural - identifying the flow and going agin it if it is agin the gospel - is where we need to be at.

The 'success' that comes with going with the flow can look so impressive - but I wonder if it really is over the long haul...

Nor is occupying the little eddy, or pool, far from the flow the answer. That is a 'christian sub-culture' response where we look pure and unsullied by the world around us - as well as quite large and impressive ... but it ain't the answer either.
Dave Wells said…
Thanks Paul, I couldn't agree more... and that from a youth worker! I have often wondered if one of the reasons we see so much more conversion of adolescents is because that is where we focus our efforts for reaching people with the kingdom... and I think that is unfair.
I have long held value in what elderly people can offer me personally and I also hold to the view that they have a lot to offer young people and wider church, hence I often say that 'there is a place in youth ministry for anyone no matter what age they are!'
Jew nor Greek, Old nor Young, I like it! The elderly are not the church of yesterday and I am constantly disapointed when I see elderly people marginalised by young people and youth ministries and rising young leaders etc. I'll hapilly join with the elderly and sing their songs.
Debs said…
I had a wondeful young-needs-old-needs-young experience at the hospital the other day. I noticed that an elderly gentleman on the rehabilitation ward had been sitting in his chair with no visitors for most of the day.

I had a spare few mins, so went and had a chat with him. Turns out he recently aquired a disc man, and wasn't quite sure how to use it, as he'd dropped it on the floor and couldn't get the batteries in properly.

We had a lovely 20 mins together as i patiently showed him how to put the cd in, press play and adjust teh volume. The look on his face when he put the head phones on and heard Louis Armstrong was so WONDERFUl and EXCITING!!! His eyes lit up, he seemed to come alive, it still gets me amped now.

He then proceeded to tell me all about the history of jazz and south american music, and how he keeps classical records on one side of his stereo at home etc etc.

As I left, he was sitting on his chair with his eyes alight and his spirit alive, and I felt so wonderful and charged!!!!

Also, because the church I go to is quite young (most people early 20's) I have decided to check out Womens Aglow once a month. Most people laugh at the mention of it but I really feel I need the support and warmth and teaching from older godly women that im just not getting right now.

Learning from your peers is one thing, but learning from those 1 or 2 generations above you can be an absolute god send.
Paul Windsor said…
What a precious story, Debs. I can just see it all happening - complete with those looks on peoples' faces.

Ah - it is 1 Corinthians 12 again ... the people we think we don't need are the very people that we DO need and when we wake-up to that fact and relate to them, God releases his Spirit among us and grows His church His way, rather than our way!

At Carey I interview someone as our community worship/lunch time draws to a close on a Tuesday. Later today I will be chatting with a 78yr old woman, originally from Holland who lived through the German occupation in her early years and then, in her latter years, she cared for her husband through depression dementia and death ... I've read her beautifully crafted hand-written memoirs. What a story! How many others like her sit anonymously in our churches? It is just not right.

I was already pretty excited about today ... now you have turbo-charged me! Thank-you
Matt said…
Refering to cultural barriers - my experience has been one where the ends of the age spectrum have related better, leaving a gap in the middle. That is, youth and elderly relating effectively where middle aged (with a few exceptions) seem to be content to, or too scared to relate to either the young or old.

The youth are crying out for mentors and role models who are 'living it' right now, as well as the wisdom of the elderly who 'lived it' in the past.

I think I just made too many generalisations to count.

Paul, you are not yet classed as elderly so are exception to the rule.
Paul Windsor said…
I'm with you, Matt

"Generalisation?!"
"What generalisation?"

I think the resistant generation with all this does tend to be the middle-aged 'babyboomer' one (which is where I sit, as you so graciously suggest!).

While the youth and the elderly may want to relate to each other more, I suspect the initiative will need to lie with the youth. In a youth-oriented culture which puts the elderly on-the-shelf, it is asking a lot of the elderly to take any initiative at all.
Lisa said…
hmmm well I think the elderly can do it. From all there ringing up to talk back radio they seem to show enough 'up and go'. What I think is needed though is some system in the middle to help connect us.

I know at the moment what our young adults feel is that they want to get connected but they don't know who to approach to get connected as they don't want to offend anyone.
Paul Windsor said…
Point taken, Lisa - the elderly can gain a lot of courage and voice as they head for the phones ... but I look at them in the pews so silent and anonymous and I wonder how many fascinating stories are harboured within...
Lisa said…
The same could be said for any age group though don't you think?

I remember at Christmas last year we had a 'couch' session where we people got up (on their own free will) to share about christmas tradtions and we had loads of old people come up and share especially ones who are normally quite quiet. We also have old people in so many ministries I can't even count! For example we have one elderly man who regularly does the offering prayer (just to name one)

The problem I think comes back to that generation gap thing again. Its all about how we relate and getting the generations to mix rather than having a thousand specific ministiries targeted at every imaginable age or interest groups, we are after all a body not body parts.
Shannon said…
Lisa, i couldn't agree more.
We seem to have a plethora of ministries that target the young people but the true class of a preacher/ministry is their ability to preach/minister to all of the body.
The elderly have a voice that we need to sit up and listen to but i do think Paul is right when he says that the move is probably going to need to come from the young - not that the old are incapable of making the move; it is more about redressing the balance or focus that we have in the church.
It is so encouraging to see the smile on an elderly person's face when you ask them to come along and share at something.
recently one of our elderly members passed away and it was true testimony to his influence that the auditorium was filled with young people who he had inputted into.