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?
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?