A blog article titled "The Church is Responsible for This" by Candice Czubernat was circulating yesterday through my Facebook feed. It tells the first-hand tale of a married lesbian mom, her wife, and their two infants as they search for an LGBT-affirming church. The problem is that they can't find an affirming church that isn't too far away, isn't too liberal, or isn't overly filled with "old people." So she privately grieves and send other LGBT parents to non-religious LGBT community centers. Because she doesn't want to exposed to "old people" germs and because (though she doesn't actually spend any time in the blog article addressing this) she doesn't want to be exposed to "liberal" people (i.e., religious progressives who actually welcome and affirm families like her family).
Lots of people have commented to that article. They either feel her pain or they welcome her to come to their church. More recently, there has been a small group of anti-gay religious folks who want her to know that she and her family are welcome at their church as long as they use quote-marks about the words "wife," "marriage," and "family" when referencing her family and as long as they eventually turn away from lesbianism and get divorced.
But there's another group of commenters who cannot move beyond Czubernat's call for LGBT tolerance; namely those of us who are offended by her lack of tolerance towards those who struggle with "old people" and aging congregations.
I belong to a small church. It hasn't always been this way, but currently we have a lot of old people at our church. I'm in my lower 40s and I'm one of the youngest members. There used to be other families with younger children at my church. There were my boys. There was a lesbian pair with a son & daughter who are roughly the age of my younger son. There were two other kids who were just a bit younger than my younger son. And there were a three other kids just older than my younger son.
And then they all left because they all wanted to belong to a church with more kids. Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that for most of them; but that was one of the stated complaints. The end result is that my aging church was left with one pre-teen boy (i.e., my son).
So do I leave a church with people that I've worshiped alongside since the late 90s so that we can seek out another gay-affirming church with more kids? Or do I stay at our church and allow my son the gift of worshipping at a church with a sense of history that includes our family? And if we had left, what does our absence provide for other visitors and prospective members who are seeking a church with diverse membership ages?
And, frankly, what's the likelihood that we'd find another church that's both gay-affirming, that's liberal (because I don't believe that is a horrible thing), and that has an active youth group that my son wants to hang with?
Speaking of church history, check out this picture:
This was from a membership "Stations of the Cross" exhibit that we created at my church back in 2006 when D'Angelo was five. I remember discussing the scene with D' and asking him to drew a picture. I then asked him what it all means and wrote down his words verbatim. One of the sixtysomething women collected that picture and kept it at her home until recently. She just shared it with me and asked me to share it with D'Angelo.
Keep in mind that D' is going through a "religion is a farce" phase right now. Maybe he will grow out of it. Maybe it won't. But his reaction to this drawing was precious. My 14-year-old son read it out loud and laughed with genuine appreciation. He doesn't worship at our church these days, but he belongs at our church and he knows that the old men and women at Faith UCC love him, worry about him, and are proud of the young man that he is growing into.
I would encourage young families to give a second thought to aging congregations. This isn't a "beggars can't be choosers" encouragement. This is a reminder that aging congregations have a lot to teach younger adults and their kids. It is also a suggestion that your presence may make it easier for other younger church-seekers who are leery about worshipping with people on the other side of 50. And (particularly for LGBT individuals and families who are seeking affirming church communities) this is a reminder that several of those fifty-, sixty-, and seventysomething old people are quite possibly LGBT Christians themselves and (assuming you're so lucky) they may be able to offer you and your kids a glimpse into your future.
In other words, stop being so quick to dismiss churches because there are too many gray-haired members. You both have something to offer each other.