Monday, April 14, 2008

What to do with old people in your congregation who get on your nerves?

A colleague north of here says he is hurt by the older people in his congregation who get in his way, criticise him and overall, make his work difficult.

I suggested that he think through his feelings, identify his goals for his congregation, then move in closer to those who get on his nerves.

Not easy to do, of course. You get your feelings hurt by people who dismiss you and let you know they think you aren't capable of the work you feel called to do.

Now, read that sentence as how the older people feel about how they are treated.

We preach the importance of being involved with the Church. We want people to do the work of the church, attend often and give of themselves to the Body.

What happens when people feel that they are no longer welcome to participate?

For many older people, the Church is the last place they feel their gifts, developed over a lifetime, are valued. Everywhere else they see signs offering them sausage biscuits discounted for senior citizens.

How to make peace in this situation? Move in closer to your "offending" people. Find a place to meet them where they are comfortable to talk about their lives and interests.

Nothing is sadder to me than to discover that that old guy in the over sized blazer who toddled into the sanctuary for years, was, according to his obituary, the author of three books on normative digestive patterns of the American Wolf. Now I find this out? I missed out on discussing this with him! How did he do his research? Where did he live? What was it like doing this work?

Put your feelings aside, please. Allow the older people the dignity of their last years. Do not coddle them. Do not talk down to them. Do not put them in the box marked "UNINTERESTING".

Exceptions to this are those people, of whatever age, who delight in upsetting anything going on at the church. With those people, quietly find out what is going on with them by getting to know them. Keep them close to you. If you discern, without discussing your dislike for them with everyone else, that they are damaging, go see them with your closest elder/church board member. Talk with them respectfully and if things aren't resolved with this conversation, go see them again (with a church officer) and let them know you will not allow them to do damage. You better pray yourself into a stupor before this step because if you don't, you can do great harm to them.

Let's not be remembered as the jerky pastor who told an older parishioner, "You are an old woman! Get out of my way!" Believe me, she recalled this incident to the last days she had on earth. I think of her every time I see the arrogant, now old man jerky preacher.


St. Casserole


cheesehead said...

You are one of the wisest people I know.

"Pray yourself into a stupor"

words to live by!

Presbyterian Gal said...


God_Guurrlll said...

I love your phrase "Pray yourself into a stupor."

Thank you for your wisdom.

mid-life rookie said...

Words of Wisdom. Preach it sister.

Lord keep me from ever failing to see the other point of view.

Mark Smith said...

"What to do with old people in your congregation who get on your nerves?"

I'm guessing "run then down in the parking lot - they don't move very fast" is the wrong answer.

I'm a big believer in the value of our older members. Unfortunately, something (society? slowing bodies?) has convinced many of them that they are not of value.

The team studying hospitality that I lead lost one older member because she didn't have e-mail, was using new hearing aids and wasn't understanding most of the meetings, and didn't feel useful. We tried to accommodate her (using an "e-mail buddy", and speaking up) but after the 2nd time she asked to leave the team we let her go. It's sad - we chose her specifically because of her gifts and sense of history and tradition.

Songbird said...


net said...

You are a very wise and compassionate saint!

Sue said...


The Simpleton said...

So beautiful.

And the answer to everything is "move in closer." I'd like to think that's what Jesus would say.

1-4 Grace said...

You are brillant, sexy, and you like cats.
Wow... Mr. C is blessed!
I also like the pray yourself into a stupor. I, however, will ahve to say that the older folks don't bother me...but the middle-aged soccer moms (who don't work and are critical of women who do) get on my nerves...those are the ones I must work on my relationships with.
But, I love your wisdom

RevHRod said...

My mother is becoming one of those older members who is perhaps a little feistier than the preacher would like. The preacher likes nice. Mom likes dialog and debate and meaningful discussion.

The seniors in my last parish had the best jokes, the most daring memories, and they more often then not needed a hug or two. Many of them lived alone.

How often we forget that we will be them some day. And we'll be retired clergy- the true bane of a young pastor.

We need to cultivate our relationships with these folks. They are us and we are them.