Ageism Makes Me Grumpy

I posted an old poem today. (click) I did it because of an online conversation where some folks seemed to be suggesting that getting a younger minister will attract more young people to church.  That is just wrong and it makes me grumpy.  Yeah, I am a grumpy old woman and proud of it.

I wrote the poem after an incident at the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association’s Institute for Excellence in Florida last January.  I was at a large table for a meal, and overheard several young ministers complaining that more older ministers needed to retire so they could find churches to serve.  They obviously felt they could do a much better job.

I did go back after awhile and speak with one of them.  She “hadn’t meant to be offensive.”  But she was clueless.  I too am a fairly new minister.  I have only been ordained for seven years, even though I easily had 25 more years of life experience than she did.  Ministers of all ages and experience do need to keep themselves fresh by attending things like the institute.  Age alone is not a predictor of competence in the ministry OR in attracting new and younger members.

Fresh out of seminary, I certainly did not expect, as they apparently did, to be called to serve a largish congregation in a fun metropolitan area.  I ended up at a relatively small church in Ogden, Utah and what a blessing it has been despite the challenges of this very conservtive state.  We are making a real difference here, however.  There are plenty of pulpits available at small relatively isolated UU churches all over the country.  I doubt  that these complainers were even looking outside of their dream locations.

At age 63,  I am also serving one of the UUA’s more youthful congregations.  The average age of the adults is somewhere in the 40’s to early 50’s I would guess.  We have quite a few young adults that attend frequently.  Children and youth participate fully in our worship services.  (click to see article on this) We do not “sing them out” and then proceed with a boring lecture type sermon as happens in too many of our churches.  Our worship and music is lively and varied. (We also have a fabulous music director and a talented pianist.)   Many churches are worried that they are dying, because everyone in the pews has grey hair.  They may in fact be dying, but it is not because they have old people.  It is  because they are resistant to change and are doing almost everything the way they did 20, 30, or even 50 years ago.  They have also forgotten about any mission outside of their church walls.  New members bring change.  They bring theological and other types of diversity.  Mission related activities particularly in the area of social justice also bring change.  Worship styles change.   Change is good.  It means you are alive.  It means the church is alive.  Young people can get stuck in ruts too.  Anyone can.  What we need to do as a religious movement is let the spirit in, let it move us to the next level.  Try different things.  Do things.  It almost doesn’t matter what, as long as the heart is the motivation.   People in my church (including some quite a bit older than me) often refer to me a “Mother Theresa,” not a title that would make sense if I was in my 30’s.  But it doesn’t matter.  Chronological age shouldn’t matter.  If we are true to this faith and the promise of a beloved community, then what will matter is how much and how strongly we love – each other and the world that needs us.   Ok, I am not so grumpy anymore.


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11 responses to “Ageism Makes Me Grumpy”

  1. Judy Clymer Welles says :

    Right on, sister. I think the whole culture of entitlement in this country has rubbed off on these young ministers. I’ve always maintained that I would minister to whoever was there, and that my words would be (or at least could be) as significant to a congregation of 80 as to a congregation of 400. What a shame if these younger ministers assume that their ministry won’t “count” unless they get a settlement in a mid-size or large church. UUs are everywhere, and they all deserve good, creative, visionary ministry regardless of the size of the congregation.

  2. Lin Marie says :

    The kids love you just like us ‘old timers’. I’m glad you found us. You’ve done much for our ‘small’ church. 🙂

  3. says :

    Amen from another 63 year old who has never been accused of being boring.

  4. Lee Richards says :

    I will agree that all “newly minted” ministers could benefit from the experience of serving a small church to start out. However, I can’t help but wonder if the young ministers are feeling the pressures of student debt. Perhaps they can’t take a position in a smaller church if the compensation won’t cover their bills.

  5. Rev. Renee Ruchotzke says :

    I don’t think age is the issue, but becoming stale and out of touch with the rapidly changing context (which is a different kind of entitlement). Ministers who keep growing and are inclusive of a variety of ages/identities/cultures can keep their ministries vibrant.

  6. Katie says :

    Do you have your services on YouTube or anything? I would love to see newer worship styles in the UU vein. Especially successful ones :).

  7. Apprenticeship Training provider says :

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