Ask not what your church can do for you, ask what you can do for your church.
With apologies to President Kennedy and to members of congregations who have for years given their all to shore up their church in creative ways, I would like to come to grips with the reality of the human nature behind of Kennedy’s words.
Our churches often point with pride to their outreach to those in need, whether across the street or across the globe. How many of you are members of congregations that identify front and center your good works in supporting missions in Asia or Africa? How many of you are members of churches that proudly identify efforts by clergy and laity alike to keep in touch with the less able, the shut-ins and the bereaved? How many of you are members of churches that repeatedly identify the blessing we all receive as gifts from our God?
I hope that most of you answered, “I am.” to those questions. These actions are important to the missions and purposes of our churches and as such should be “practiced” and publicly noticed and appreciated. The focus in our newsletters, bulletin boards and “Temple Talks” about the things we do as a church not only define our church, but they identify ways to think about a Godly life for each of us. The practices noticed in our church can become the identity practiced by members of a congregation.
But we all know, because we have been there, that as much as we appreciate a helping hand with food when we are incapacitated, or words of compassion when we are troubled, or directions along a pathway when we are confused, that we would never choose to live our life in such a “receiving” mode. We, all of us, need to also feel that we are reasonably capable of giving help, finding solutions to problems, and being in reasonable control of our own lives in the company of people we like and appreciate. This is as true for older adults as it is for the middle-aged adults as it is for the youth.
So how does a church go about including success in empowering people for the “I am competent” half of the human equation. Where are the headlines in the bulletin and newsletters proudly touting instances in which congregation has created opportunities for those who receive the churches support to become our teachers in ways we would never have expected? Where are the “Temple Talks” lauding the older adults in the church who gathered the youth to ask the young for ideas for making life better for all? Where are the well-publicized discussions of clergy and laity alike asking the less active members of the congregation for help in thinking about and acting on creative ways for fostering new ways to improve life for members of the communities in which they live?
I write these words as an older adult who, though feeling a bit less energy or capability to do what I’d like to do with each passing year, still do not like being given a default identity as the kind of person the church needs to help.
The solutions lie in considerations of new, creative ways all members of the church, including my older age-mates can be noticed publicly as we contribute in ways that we are able to improve the well-being of our church, our community, our country and our world. I’d like us to be known not just as a part of the problem but also as a necessary part of the solution. It would do wonders for our health and well-being and could support our churches in their efforts to help create a better world.