In discussions and idea exchange on ageism with several retired clergy and professional Church personnel I have received the following:
“Where I have experienced ageism the most is when seeing a medical person ie: general practice doc,
eye doctor, etc. Most everything is attributed to my age (76). It’s annoying and condescending. I’ve also
been told by a bishop to go enjoy my retirement when what I wanted was to get more involved in
“Your reflection reminded me that when we first moved to ………., I wrote a couple of the Universities in the town asking if there was any possibility of my offering a course or, at the least, being considered as a guest lecturer, given the experiences I have had. I received no response of any kind. Now ageism might have had something to do with it, but so did meritocracy, another great problem facing the US.” Professor, PhD. Male
“Very interesting. As someone who will be 92 in a few weeks, to me, mid-seventies is the new sixty-five. I came to the conclusion a decade ago, that once you pass eighty nobody listens to you anyway, which gives you the freedom to say anything you want.” Priest-Male
“Thanks for this insight Tom, I’m not there yet but I see it.” Priest-Female
“Having outlived my two grandfathers and my father, I have thought a lot about being 80 and what that means. I do believe we should not, ipso facto, decide that at age 72, clergy are “finished”, or, relegated to supply sacramentalist roles. For those with energy, good physical and mental health, there are some wonderful ministries available.” Professsor-Chaplain to Retired Clergy
A priest friend of mine and myself were tagged once by the Bishop as the “pied piper clergy” of the Diocese. ‘No matter where you go, the folks are sure to follow’, the Bishop commented. At the time I was not sure if that was a compliment or a put down.
We were not trying to be “pied pipers” and as we moved around that diocese, we had some successes, but mostly we laughed, loved, and respected one another and all the folks in those congregations.
Since that time both my friend and I have retired. No longer pied pipers, we both still maintain a love for ministry in and among God’s people. My friend believes that “many of us seem to be burnt out, or worn out, or jaded, or fed up with the bureaucracy, or less willing to subscribe to the Peter Principle or Party Line.” I have found many as he describes, but also I have found others who are itching to celebrate, teach, counsel, and serve.
Sadly, that energy is unused in our and in other churches. This is unfortunate as there are many congregations who could be encouraged by seasoned experience.
It is not the intent here in these offerings to damn the institutional Church for its complicity in ageism. As we well know, “isms” are pervasive and finds their expression in mandates, protocols, exclusion. We have heard it said, maybe, who it is who loves the details. But this “ism” for my focus leads, I believe, to images of fragile, incompetent, disabled men and women with “white collars around their necks.
My friend says, ageism “is a systemic bias, which has become so routine, that most would scarcely notice that it is damaging to one’s sense of self and can be isolating.
Writing and sharing my thought on this issue has brought me to wondering is the retired clergy have become a part and parcel of the cancel culture, a modern form of ostracism.
Still, I have written these pieces not in anger but in hope, not in dismay, but in relief, and most of all that the institutional Church, so blessed by so many resources, may take another look at one I fear has been overlooked.