The bonus years
Is the Church fulfilling its duty to people in later life? And is it receiving what older people have to offer? Sheila Maxey reflects on ripe years
Those over 70 have been granted extra time beyond the biblical “three score years and 10”. One might call them “the bonus generation”. I belong to this generation.
Most of our local churches’ weekly life of worship and service would grind to a halt without the bonus generation. We have time and, at first, most of us still have energy. We bring the expertise of our working lives, and our hobbies, and many years of life experience to offer to the Church – as treasurers, as administrators, as cooks, as teachers, as carers, as carpenters and odd-job men… Some take on more lay preaching commitments; others initiate new forms of outreach. There is more time now for the Bible study group, the Lent group, becoming a more active elder – and perhaps a better pastor. Not only local churches, but the wider Church depends, to quite an extent, on us.
The bonus generation in most of our churches, especially the younger end of it, has been a very fortunate generation in terms of job security, housing and money. Making the most of the gift of these bonus years often means interesting holidays to far-flung places, developing creative gifts and getting involved in walking, book and theatre groups. The bonus generation is probably also the life-blood of the local Rotary and many other local charitable and community organisations. Churches often complain about the way Sunday sports tempt children away from church, but today many of our bonus generation members do not attend with old-fashioned regularity. However, the mission of the Church needs church people to be involved in the world outside the Church, and many of the bonus generation are certainly doing that.
We need a safe space within churches where together we can honestly wrestle with these competing commitments, and these opportunities to make the most of the remaining years of energy and independence. It is surprisingly difficult to “rejoice with those who rejoice” – for widows to delight in stories of a couple’s travels together, for those limited by ill-health to enjoy another’s hill-walking achievement, for the single person to appreciate family photos. It is hard for those vital people who are always there on Sunday to cover, with a good grace, for those who are often away…
This is an extract from the October 2014 edition of Reform.