A few months ago, a friend of mine, who is a youth pastor, told me, "I'm glad you feel called to that work, I could never do it." By 'that work', he was referring to ministry among an elderly population. At first, his words poked with a patronizing jab, but then I began to question. What does it mean to feel 'called' to a particular demographic of Christ's Church? Are we called to serve particular groups of people, based upon markers like age, race, orientation, or political affiliation? Does this kind of focused ministry, necessarily, come at the expense of ignoring those groups we do not feel called to?
I heard Bishop Will Willimon speak a few times while I was at Duke, and he spent a great amount of energy discouraging Methodist clergy from visiting the elderly. The church will die if we spend time with the dying. Ministers must engage with young people if the church is to survive the great secularization of our society. Out with the old, in with the new. I agree with Bp. Will in one sense. Many mainline churches are focusing their energy and resources on their ageing populations, or even cushioning their equally aged pastor's pension, all while the accounts drain and congregation dwindles. This is a serious concern for many church, especially in the South.
However, there is equal danger in abandoning the faithful elderly (besides it's immorality, which is obvious): we lose our connection to our own mortality, and dreams of immortality come so easy to our entertainment-soaked culture.
Jean Vanier writes, "Jesus wants us to become friends of truth." In the age of fake news, Qanon, and a general cyncism towards objectivity, our friendship with truth is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain. But, one truth stands above all other truths, as the most irrefutable of realities: you are going to die. At one point, maybe sooner than later, you will either be underground in a box, or ashes in a jar on someone's mantle. There is no escaping this fact. It is coming for me, and it is coming for you. If we are to become friends with truth, then we must also become friends with death, or at the very least, honest adversaries.
I do not know if I am called to elderly minstry, mostly because I am not even sure what that means. However, I am sure of one thing, I am called to die, and my elderly friends are great at keeping me honest.