By the time you (hopefully) read this, the Coronation will have been and gone; another milestone passed in our collective history as a country. Comments will be made over the coming weeks regarding the service; some will suggest it was a missed opportunity for Gospel witness and others that there was “too much God stuff” in it. Many will have pledged their allegiance, prayed for, waved a Union Jack flag, held a party, and marvelled at the pomp and pageantry. For those who are not royalists, at least there is a bank holiday to enjoy on Monday!
What has struck me is the enormity of beginning such a significant new job at age 74, when most retire rather than take on a new, publicly demanding role. I, of course, appreciate that this is a role which His Majesty has been aware of and preparing for all his life; nevertheless, it is a big step.
I recently visited one of our missional listeners, who was building great connections with those of an older age who are invariably marginalised by society. A newly opened dementia café drew in over 20 people in this rural market town, and I am excited about the prospect of something ecclesial emerging. I was interested in the choice of language used at a recent meeting of the various stakeholders of this project, who repeatedly spoke about the need for a “vibrant worshipping community” whenever the prospect of church forming from this older group was raised. I may be harsh in my judgement, but the language seemed to imply those of a certain age were no longer viewed as vibrant.
I think we need to re-examine our language and image of church planting. Whilst I welcome and am enthused about a church with a wealth of young people and younger families, God's church is not defined by a worship leader in skinny jeans constantly sipping from a bottle of mineral water, nor PowerPoint and film clips embedded in every message, and a bias towards the young. All these things can be helpful in their proper place - but are these foundational in what is needed to birth a church? Give me a group of people seeking to be more like Jesus, who, despite their arthritis, diabetes, and mobility challenges, are full of the Spirit. For me, this is also vibrant church!
Just as young people are not the church of tomorrow, similarly, the elderly are not the church of yesterday! Instead of appearing almost apologetic for the lack of families and young people, why don't we celebrate the number of older people who gather; each has the potential to draw in those like them lovingly and inclusively and grow God's kingdom. This is an area I firmly believe we, as the church, need to be counter-cultural. We live in a society that appears to write people off once they reach a certain age. A church I once had the privilege of leading grew our youthwork through working with the elderly – perhaps that’s a story for another week – but let me briefly tell you about Elaine. Elaine was one of those Godly ladies with a disarming smile who was always encouraging. Elaine was in her eighties. Our church's youth band held a concert to play what they ‘allegedly’ considered music. I found myself standing next to Elaine, thinking the music was much too loud, I couldn't hear the lyrics above the guitars, and the lead vocalist (and I use this phrase loosely) needed a haircut. I remarked to Elaine that I was a little surprised to see her there as I didn't think it was her kind of music, to which she replied, "I don't necessarily like the music, but I love the fact that these young people are infected by Jesus." Elaine was one of these young people's core supporters and encouragers, always finding something positive to share about their latest songs; she prayed for them, cared for them, and inspired them. What became very clear to me through Elaine is that the Holy Spirit does not stop using you when you reach your 80s.
So just as we have celebrated the coronation of our new King, aged 74, let us celebrate and honour those in our churches across the countryside, who, despite advancing years, are the blessing and backbone of many a rural church. For those of you who view yourself within the 'old age' category, may I suggest the words of Psalm 71 for your prayers this week?
Now that I am old and grey do not abandon me, O God. Let me proclaim your power to this new generation, your mighty miracles to all who come after me. Psalm 71:18
Simon Mattholie CEO Rural Ministries