Oh, the adventures that await just over the hill!
You couldn’t miss her when you walked through the foyer of Bakerview Church. Wanda was a firecracker! With spirited enthusiasm and carefully coiffed hair , Wanda was quick to greet and hug most everyone, loved to volunteer in the children’s ministry, and prayed faithfully and passionately on a daily basis.
I was single when I first met Wanda. She would look at me with a firm gaze and tell me she was praying – in faith – for my husband.
When Wanda died in 2010, I was shocked to learn she was 80 years old! With so much vitality and passion, I had her pegged for about 65. She was one of those seniors who carries herself with confidence and poise, never losing sight of who she is in God’s eyes. Wanda, along with many other seniors, had a positive impact on my life.
Some tough questions
According to Statistics Canada, the number of seniors in Canada is projected to increase from 4.2 million to 9.8 million between 2005 and 2036. That means the number of older folks in our congregations will likely more than double.
As a church, we need to be ready for a flood of questions that are sure to rise up: How will we address the topic of euthanasia? What about elder abuse? (Statistics Canada documents thousands of incidents of violence against seniors each year.) And with a trend toward healthier and longer lifespans, what role will seniors play in our congregations?
As more and more hairs turn grey in the pews, we happily bless seniors as they retire from the workforce. But, sadly, we often relegate them to a place of “retirement” in the church, too.
We ask our elders to pray – but do we stop there? Do their opinions carry any weight in church decisions, or are we just happy to receive their charitable contributions? Do we ask them to sit in the back of the sanctuary if the music is too loud, or shake our heads when they ask for larger print in our denominational magazine?
Perhaps that’s a little harsh. Of course, some seniors want to step back and devote more time to family and grandchildren after decades of serving the larger community. I know many who are happy to take a back seat, allowing younger people with more energy and stamina to maintain the ministries and programs of the church.
Indeed, something remarkable happens when one generation passes the baton to the next. It’s wonderful when elders bless young people to discover new horizons in ministry.
“God’s not finished with me yet”
But the Bible never suggests a person’s influence or contribution should be over once they turn 65. In fact, many of the world’s greatest accomplishments were undertaken by seniors. In the words of humourist Stan Toler, “The buzzards are circling, but God’s not finished with me yet.”
Consider this brief list of world-changing, grey-haired servants of God:
• Sarah, listed in the Hebrews 11 “hall of faith,” was 90 years old when she gave birth to her son Isaac.
• Moses was 80 years old when he led the Israelites out of slavery from Egypt.
• Noah Webster published his dictionary in 1828 when he was 70 years old. The volume contained 70,000 words, including 12,000 that had never before appeared in a published dictionary. Webster is also credited as being the father of American Christian education.
• Laura Ingalls Wilder, beloved author of Little House on the Prairie, didn’t publish her first book until she was 64. Ingalls Wilder made notes in her Bible, and when she was discouraged, she’d read Psalm 23 and 24.
• Michelangelo, the famous painter, architect, and sculptor, was appointed architect of St. Peter’s Basilica and mandated to design its dome at age 71. Historians say that Michelangelo read and reread the entire Old Testament as he painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
• Nelson Mandela – world leader and champion against apartheid – was 75 when he became president of South Africa. Mandela credits his Christian faith with sustaining him through years of imprisonment.
• Sir Charles Tupper was Canada’s oldest prime minister when he became leader in 1896 at age 74. As a young man, Tupper had been ordained as a Baptist minister.
• At 69, Mother Teresa received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in the slums of Calcutta, India, where she opened a school, tended to the sick and dying, and started an order of nuns.
The men and women featured in this issue, like my friend Wanda, are shining examples of Jesus’ words: “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matthew 5:14). In God’s kingdom, there is no “over-the-hill” – only on it!