IVP - Online Pulpit - The Age-Old Myth, Part 1

February 17, 2012

The Age-Old Myth, Part 1

by Emily Varner

As a small child, I was desperately afraid of elderly people. The white hair, the wrinkly skin, the change in vocal tone all seemed to me a dangerous and potentially contagious disability. I consider with sadness how my avoidance must have felt to my paternal grandmother—white-haired and arthritic from my earliest memory—or great-grandmother—bent nearly double with osteoporosis and missing an eye—neither of whom are around to accept an apology and explanation.

I blame this aversion partly on my temperament and mostly on the fact that I grew up in rather isolated military communities until I was six. My friends and I had young, fit parents and even the “older people” we knew were not yet retired. It took a change of scenery, some growing up, and simply more interaction with elderly people to lift me out of paralyzing fear at the less-than-pretty effects of aging.

But moving beyond simple fear doesn’t necessarily mean that my perspective on the elderly is healthy, much less that it is informed and (perhaps most important) biblical. The effects of sin undoubtedly reach into how a society views and treats its most aged members, and in the experience of far too many older people these days, the church often fails to challenge its surrounding culture with a new vision for both the value and potential impact of its aging members. (And if you haven’t noticed, the Baby Boom generation will very soon comprise the largest percentage of elderly persons our society has ever known.)

A new offering from IVP addresses this concern for the church to embrace its unique position in both improving the lives of seniors and seeking to learn from the lived wisdom of its elders. A Vision for the Aging Church is a partnership between an elder theologian, James Houston (one of the founders of Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia), and Michael Parker, a gerontologist and public health researcher whose work has focused on increasing access to elder-care resources and encouraging community partnerships to benefit the elderly.

This book came to me at an interesting intersection of personal circumstances, not all dealing with aging per se, but changes that were very closely related. My husband’s grandfather was ailing and passed away while I read the book, my closest friend experienced a traumatic brain injury, and my in-laws and parents dealt with serious health issues that were severely impacting their lifestyles. I found its conscious approach to how the church approaches its aging and elderly members relevant to my personal life in ways it had not been even weeks before.

How a church involves older members speaks to the deep-seated theological beliefs of the people responsible for these programs. In my experience, church ministries for the elderly can be reduced to either day trips and entertainment for the active elderly or individual hospital visits to ailing congregants. My cynical side questions this as an attempt at keeping the old people happy so they will continue to give the church needed monies. But the more a church utilizes its aging members’ skills as volunteers and their accumulated wisdom in teaching and mentoring, the more it speaks to the continuing value of every person. Fostering intergenerational relationships and offering practical assistance to the elderly (not to mention the adult children who often care for them) does not come to our churches nearly as naturally as it should.

Part two explores the central theological idea that plays in the background of these issues.

varnerOP.jpgEmily Varner worked extensively with A Vision for the Aging Church as a freelance editor and publicist for IVP Academic. Her business, AcademicPS, focuses on ministry books and academic texts from Christian publishers. She and her husband doug have a six-year old daughter and are also foster parents to a baby girl.

Posted by Nate Baker-Lutz at February 17, 2012 12:03 PM Bookmark and Share

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