by the Rev. Thomas Buechele
I remember and I think it must still hold true that every seminarian asks in every lecture regarding a pressing question of the times is: “What can we as seminarians do about it? Here are some areas to consider with regard to Ageism.
The starting point of any conversion is to acknowledge our own prejudices about age and aging. Ageist stereotyping is actually very strong among older folks themselves in comments like “I’m 74 years young”, “I’m having a senior moment.” “I like him, but I wonder if he can drive at night?”
Ageism can be in your face and very subtle. Ageism can not only experienced at early and late stages of adult life, but it affects all human life. No one is exempt from its equality of perniciousness. Ashton Applewhite recommends some questions for those struggling with Ageism: “In your own mind, what age are you? What does that mean to you? What makes you see someone else as old or young? What does it mean when someone says, “I don’t feel old.”Do you think you should tell people your age?
Some questions for all of us: Does age affect the way you think and feel about your body? Do you think you look younger/older than your peers?How do you feel about trying to look younger?Have you personally experienced ageism? Is discrimination on the basis of age different from other kinds of discrimination? What do you like about being your age? What do you dislike? What’s new in your life that you attribute to age? Any changes in attitude, views, interests? Do people treat you differently? How so? What, if anything, are you looking forward to in the next decade? How about the decade(s) after that? How do you think aging differs for men and for women? How do you feel when someone says “You look great for your age!”What do you fear about growing older?What’s surprising about getting older?”
That’s a long list of questions, but by asking ourselves one or all of these, we can increase awareness of how we interact with older others. And awareness is always good.
Inter-generational Collaboration Building requires new thinking and creativity at a time when longer and healthier lives already are upending our notions about what it means to grow old. The skills that older adults can offer are well-suited to the needs of youth. Inter-generational engagement benefits the participants their faith communities.
Daily contact with inter-generational age groups was not uniformly practiced before the pandemic. And now it must seem almost non-existent in many places. Many communities for 55 and above were already separate or closed to the greater community. Some places even have sun-down regulations…under 55 years of age must be out by nightfall. Unless there in intentional commitment to inter-generational work, the value, respect, and gifts on both ends of will be misunderstood or simply missed out for all.
One of my heroes in and among Church organizations is Maggie Kuhn, the founder of “The Gray Panthers”. In 1970, although she was working at a job she loved with the Presbyterian Church, she was forced to retire the day she turned 65 because of the mandatory retirement law then in effect. That year, she banded together with other retirees and formed the Gray Panthers movement. Maggie and the Gray Panthers tackled the then-popular “disengagement theory,” which argues that old age involves a necessary separation from society as a prelude to death. Kuhn implicated the American lifestyle for treating the old as problems of society and not as persons experiencing the problems created by society.
Which leads me to yet another question for us to consider: Is mandatory retirement for Episcopal Clergy at age 72 a just and equitable requirement ? There are 6,393 parishes within the confines of the U.S.A. 63% of those have 200 members or less. It is increasingly difficult for those congregations to pay part-time clergy and practically impossible to afford full time clergy. A challenges and frustration for our younger clergy, eager to serve. Overall Church membership is down. One tragic response to this might be to just close them. But that’s not hopeful and that’s not right. The Episcopal Church’s statistics are all on the decline. A bright note in spite of that decline is financial support is on the increase. Is there a way to employ the the retiring ordained back into service to keep that going while we work to change the rest?
For there is one truism we are told to live by daily these days. And that is we are all in this together. Let’s share some ideas and get to work.