Friday, July 22, 2005

Grandparent Church?

Sitting in the Union at RMIT and thinking about last Sunday when I preached at a church near La Trobe. It was a good friendly community, and the average age was over 50. A bunch of friendly people, open to meeting new folks, seemed willing to share what they had with others, many were eager I bet: but there were not many young people around. And I think that says something sad about relationship between generations, and perhaps about our shared cultural life as well.

When I first came to Australia, four and a half years ago, I was surprised by how easily young people, traditional secondary and tertiary students, related to older people. They were much quicker to engage in conversation, ask good questions, share their experience and be willing to listen to others, even older folk. I think there can be a real segregation by age in the US, and it didn’t seem as rigorous here. But the experience on Sunday made me wonder.

Perhaps it is just that Christianity is no longer seen as a vital and valid spiritual path or wisdom tradition. There has certainly been enough detritus thrown around by the church over the years to give any seeker reason to pause. But there are also some deep roots, soft wisdom, sanity and sanctity, as well as communities of seekers gathered to share and enrich the journey; so that it would be sad, and a bit severe to write the whole amalgam away because of some of the seedier and noisier disciples of the way.

I came across a line of Shakespeare years ago that fits the church well. “Lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds”, and I always think of the church: sometimes it is capable of great mercy, justice, prophesy; other times it is merely a well oiled cog in the wheel of dehumanisation. But the community I saw last week was healthy, good-hearted, open for conversation, looked to be sharing their lives, and that needs to be said and to be honoured in a world where so many are lonely and needful of company on the road.

In a world with so many travellers, people on the move, we need places for a new kind of family to take place; and many churches can offer that. I think the people I was with last Sunday would love to share the journey with folks of difference ages, difference style, to take the chance to grow together.

Ann Lamott writes somewhere about “Uncle Jesus,” and, although I am not sure what exactly she means, I like the sound of it; because that image moves some new and needed room into the possibility of God meeting flesh in daily life. Remembering those friendly elders, maybe we need to start talking about “Grandparent Church.”

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