The elders at the church where I pastor met this week for an EhD – an Elder Half Day. We hold these monthly, a 3-hour gathering for the sole purpose of exploring a single theme. An EhD involves 3 things: biblical exploration of that theme; a guided but free-flowing discussion on it; and prayer – lots of prayer.
This EhD was on the older generation. That’s a vague way to describe an age group, but roughly it refers to those in their mid-60s and beyond. This is the fastest growing age demographic in Canada. For example, in the 70s, 8% of the population was over the age of 65. In the next 2 years, 16% will be. But because Canada’s population has grown in those 40 years, that doesn’t tell the whole story. Try this: • In 1971, 1,750,000 men and women in the country were 65 or older. • Today, it’s 5 million. • By 2016, it will be close 6 million.
This is one of those realities we ignore to our own peril. Thanks to the persistence of my chairman, himself approaching this magic age, our elders stopped ignoring it. His heart on the issue distills to a key question: How do we honour and engage the older generation? Or to phrase it more like he does: “How do we heed the wisdom of those who have lived long, and how do we release it for the sake of the whole church?”
We started the conversation this week. And we got excited. One of the participants emailed me after to say it was the most inspiring EhD he’s been at yet (and he’s been to all of them).
What got us exited? That’s simple: the sheer wealth of life experience and spiritual depth bound up in the older generation. They know things. They’ve seen things. They’ve been through things. Theirs is a wisdom, not of books and theories and guesses, but of sorrow and joy, trial and error, triumph and defeat. It’s been quarried from real rock. It’s been forged in real fire. It’s been tempered in real water. They have, in their hearts and bodies, gone places the young just speculate about but feel entitled to opinions on anyhow. The great tragedy is that those who have earned their opinions, and honed them to a fine wisdom, are so seldom consulted. And they rarely offer their thoughts unbidden.
Yet we need this generation like never before.
Emerson said the great need of his day was for the centuries to speak to the hours. In our day, may at least the decades speak to the years. Let wisdom speak, and may we all be listening.