There's a place for young people in an aging society

danielgriswold@gmail.comJuly 30, 2013 

A wise man told me this morning that our current culture is very "ageist." In an area that is full of wonderfully retired and aging people, we live in a focal point of the angst that aging brings with it, in regular life and in worship.

Young people in the college and career phases of their lives walk into a church and are greeted by handshakes and smiles from gray-haired people wearing nice suits or dresses, holding up the structure and traditional styles of worship. In a perfect world, all ages would come together and worship the God of the Ages (or all ages), but the reaction I've more often seen is one of segregation according to age, individual taste in style, or by culture. In a time when people basically worship youth, this is not surprising, but how can God's people be different?

In the Scriptures, it is obvious that God values all people of all ages. Those who are young are the church, those who are middle-aged are the church, those who are elderly are the church. And it is with different perspectives on life coming together that we see life's picture more completely. The old do not forget what it was like to be young, full of new adventures, fears and risks. The young gain the advantage of wisdom, which is basically the ability to denote patterns in life and share that knowledge with others.

"Since my youth, God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come." (Psalm 71:17-18)

Perhaps segregation started after the World Wars, when young men and women settled down together and simultaneously started families and careers. A mass of people grew up together, supported one another, and raised children together. That solidarity gave them a special place in society as their children grew and created a new world beneath the structures they created. As that generation retires and passes off the responsibilities of the world, a painful process begins. It also seems like there are more older people than ever as the baby boomers remain in health well into their 80s and 90s. My great-grandmother, Alice, is now 102 years old.

So what are the young to do? I think that a bit of humility would do us all a bit of good. We are an aging society and for a time the young will have to come to terms with what it means to be at the other end of life. I think that the benefits of sharing life together outweigh the initial awkwardness of the relationship. Who wouldn't want to have some sound financial advice, or to hear the stories of their family?

Perhaps that means that we don't have all the electric guitars in the worship band, or perhaps that means that the projector shows images of cartoons from the 1960s and 1970s. That's all OK. As we worship together, our picture of life becomes more complete, and it is our common focus on the glory of God, and telling of the great things he has done, that we forget age and become part of a church that is eternal. Can people of all ages come together and be the body of Christ? I know we can, I've seen it happen. Have courage and trust in the Lord, great things are possible.

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog at www.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

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