What does it mean for us to grow old? I am not really sure as I have not really given it much thought. I think that when you have children, it is easier to pay attention to age, to eras. But when there are not visible reminders in children and grandchildren, it is not so easy. The thought that I could have great grandchildren at my age stuns me. And when I talk to young people of the passions of my youth, I realize that I am listening to my grandmother talk of things that were ancient history.
It is important to reminisce as one gets older. It is important to put one’s life into perspective. However, it cannot remain there. I am not stuck in my high school class that is now 50 years away from our youthful idiocy. I am not stuck even in my first parish even though I still claim good friends from that time. But I am informed by those eras and experiences. And consequently I am valuable to generations that were not influenced by parents who had lived through the Great Depression or the privations of WWII, or a Church that was the center of local society.
At the same time, I have to recognize that I can’t do what I have been doing for the past 50 years or so. I don’t have the energy, the memory or the skill to do some things. I can’t prepare a room for a meeting, moving chairs and tables as I once could. I can still RUN a meeting; I just can’t set up for it—a necessity in some places. And no matter how many devices and calendars I have, I forget what day it is and forget events I am supposed to attend. It is exasperating. I am beginning to understand why some elders ‘check out’ at a certain place in life. It is easier to live in the past. But I am not willing to do that. God isn’t finished with me yet and I am not finished living out loud either.
Evaluating what we can do as a community of faith is also difficult. J and I have generally been careful to separate our service to the Church so that we could free to serve small congregations or parishes that were trying to do different things. For the first part of our ministry it was having a woman rector. As women in the priesthood became more common, we tried to serve congregations that were trying to serve minority communities and then toward the end of our careers we served in small congregations that could not afford ‘full-time’ clergy. Living in community made it possible for us to do this.
But now living in community is difficult. We no longer have rectories that are maintained by the parish. We both still serve churches but as retired, adjunct priests living on our pensions. We have altars at which we can continue the priestly ministry that is in us. And we have voice and vote in our diocesan convention. And the passion of serving Christ is still as important to us as it was when we were ordained, but ‘wim, wigor and witality’ of our younger days are past.
I am somewhat grateful for the diminishment of energy. I don’t ‘stick my foot into it’ as often as in my youth; my faux pas are diminished, or take a different character. I am easier on others and myself as I grow older. I like to think it is because I have become more compassionate, but at times it is just because I know that ‘this too shall pass.’
Perspective is a wonderful asset of growing older. Often older folks are considered wise—I’ll not abuse this opinion. But I think some of our wisdom comes from just having had more experience of how things work in the incarnate world. I would never say that our ideals are any less, but elders know, if we have been observant at all, that perfection is a crock. We know how important it is to have goals and the passion to strive for them, but we also know that life, being what it is, never stays the same and our goals and passions are all subject to change.
I have been having an on-going friendly argument with a friend about canon law regarding who may receive the sacraments. I understand that Elizabeth is responding to a conversation in the larger church in preparation for General Convention. I want nothing to inhibit a priest from making the decision to offer Holy Communion to anyone who presents themselves for the sacrament. I understand the need for the Church to regulate how the sacraments are distributed. But I don’t want to see a priest’s livelihood threatened because an unbaptized child reaches out for the Bread and Wine either. I want us to act in a way that is consistent with the actions of Jesus. I don’t want the Church to be a membership club—but a place where all are welcome. Does this come from wisdom or just years in parishes where people come at the invitation of the Holy Spirit?
Somehow the canons must become advisory not punitive. Are our canons devised to promote the ideal or the infrastructure? We are not clear about that and in the haste to ‘regulate’ we as Church are binding ourselves into an oblivion that does not serve the needs of those in the parishes. We have allowed the ‘big business’ model dictate how those of us who work in the heart of the Church, at the edge of pastoral care, in small congregations who merely try to be Christian communities of radical hospitality. No wonder the young find us irrelevant. I will choose to follow the pastoral need every time. Does that come from the grace of being older? Does that come from experience? Or is it wisdom or foolishness? I don’t know.
I like the softness of being older. I like the grace of experience. I am not too crazy about the fact that I can’t do all I want. I am angry that my joints won’t allow me to genuflect or kneel, but I am joyful about being blessed with the memory of encounters with the Holy that keep me telling the story of God’s love. It makes give me the passion to live into my future rather than surround me with my past. There is a future, I am part of it and I am making it for generations yet to know what it means. They too will come to this place in their lives and ask “What’s it all about?”