Most churches are drawn to the young and energetic clergy thinking that they will in turn attract younger generations (as if age and energy alone will guarantee meaningful connections and ministry with unreached, unchurched younger adults). Because churches have budgets and are cost conscious, entry level clergy often fill this function, whether or not their spiritual gifts and abilities fit this role.
I was the youngest of three brothers, so I have naturally have been drawn to older people all of my life. Because of their wisdom or knowledge or experience, I learn when I am with chosen mentors. I remember front porch visits with my neighbor's grandfather when I was around 5 yrs. old. Dr. John Lennon, my youth minister (Minister of Christian Education in those days), was the one who served as my spiritual director before I knew what one was. Under his guidance, I was confirmed and explored vocation. I could always count on getting an honest answer from him and I trusted him as a person and friend. John retired at 65, the same year I graduated from High School. We had one of the more dynamic youth ministries around. He remained active. For example, he consulted in Christian Education in Australia, and held church staff positions in retirement.
I was chaplain at a retirement community for several years. This ministry, which I dearly loved, required dealing honestly with the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional onslaughts of aging. The frequent question in spiritual counseling seemed to be: "Why am I still alive?" It was a question of vocation, purpose: " What am I now here for?" The search for and the fulfilling of that purpose is a holy one at any age; it also saved my life by bringing a continuity, a sense of wholeness that God is never finished with us.
After being an R.N. during W.W. II, Mom went back to college when I was in High School, graduated with the R.N. when I was in college, then started work in a free clinic before teaching childbirth classes. She was 85 when she fully retired. When she was in grade school, her church had a vocation day and the children were asked to wear the clothing of whatever their chosen vocation would have been at the time. They processed down the church, as if to offer these dreams to God and to declare themselves to the world. She dressed as a nurse.
How did I survive the forties? I did it by the grace that God is not finished. Purpose and usefulness saved me.
Here are some ideas to consider:
- Remember and name, in gratitude, the people and events that have brought you to this point.
- Resist the norm of defining your call as something in the past. Define meaning and purpose now.
- Reflect on your identity. Apart from all the roles and labels and titles, who are you? This may time longer than you think.
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