Is the Church becoming Ageist?

One of the words so dearly loved in church is ‘relevant’. We seem to think that it would be good to be relevant, and that if we can only attain that holy state, people who are not Christians will flock to our churches.

How wrong can we be, all in one go? Relevance is a myth, one dispelled some time ago by Henri Nouwen (The Way of the Heart).  We would be far more use to God if we stopped trying to be relevant, and worked at being deep. Which leads me on to ageism. In our striving to be relevant, we impose a particular world-view on the likes/needs/proclivities of young people (loud music, late nights, flashing images etc). Which does not, of course, suit all young people.

But we impose something equally stereotypical on older people (BCP, contemplation, tradition). But there are older people who don’t want those things (many of them, including my mother in law who would have hated being made to worship in any of the above ‘oldies’ styles).

The thing is, the cynical bit of me wonders if the church is being ageist because it is cheap and easy. We have BCP, tradition is already established and contemplation is mostly free, so that’s give the older people that, because it will keep them happy, and we can go and do something more relevant :-)

How scary is that? And what will the beloved C of E do if it manages to alienate its older people – than we generally won’t have young people or older ones, and even if we do get younger ones, just to remind you, they get older too…

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  1. Russell Kelly’s avatar

    Is the Chruch being ageist? Yes, by definition …. The Church, Religion, exists in order to answer some fundamental questions for ordinary folk, primarily elderly women. They need the Church in order to sustain their belief in an afterlife, heaven, a place where dead children and husbands have gone before them. Churches exploit this need to fill collection plates, collect from wills and endowments, and generally finance itself. Although not a Christian, years ago, I collected and processed the data for the Decennial Bishop’s Visitation for the Bishops of Lancaster and Blackburn. Suddenly, the local clergy found a desperate need to pass by my front door! The writing was on the wall then … about 60% of parishes were insolvent … the plate collections weren’t even covering basic running costs, with no spare for special missions, etc. It’s got worse since then. Women priests were inevitable. Men were too expensive, with wives and families. Gay and lesbian clerics .. equally solutions to the same problem. But their inclusion alienates the economically most important members of the laity, those elderly women, Conservative middle England. Blair and his Blair babes, the MPs surrounding you who mostly came unstuck in the expenses scandal, have simply served to confirm the laity’s worst fears – they were morally bankrupt. There will be an increasing swing back to more Conservative postures on these issues …
    Yes, the Church is ageist. It has to because it can only exist if it exploits the cohorts of elderly women who have sustained it since before the 12th century as Ladourie demonstrated. Alienate them any further and your Church will crumble around your ears. I live in the midst of Catholic Germany. I see the local women trek each day to the graves of their children and the husbands. They are absolutely distraught over the revelations about priests as are friends in Ireland. What happens to your Church of England when the revelations turn to sexual interference of vicars with choirboys which has gone on for decades? Beware of the Pandora’s Boxes you are opening. I don’t understand why you don’t initiate and build a Church of your own based on a postmodern theology. C of E has been dying for centuries. These Synod disputes are the last gasp attempts to keep it alive!

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