“Usher out gray-haired members?”

Are you shocked by this headline?
Cottage Grove church to usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.

Published in the January 18 issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, this headline grabbed my attention.

The United Methodist congregation featured in the article had suffered the shrinkage experienced across traditional denominations. A complete reset was determined to be the way to grow the Cottage Grove location. According to one member, the aging membership has been asked to “continue maintaining the church until it reopens,” probably in November. “They want us to mow the lawn and shovel the snow.” Another member said, “We are supposed to be silent partners and still give money.”

According to the report, current members, most of whom are over the age of 60, will be invited to “worship somewhere else.” A memo recommends they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about returning.

Some of us have faced ageism when younger workers are given the most lucrative projects or best equipment. Others have been turned down for a promotion or faced recruitment policies that limit eligibility to those with less than 20 years of experience. The list of examples goes on, but the recent newspaper story was a sharp reminder that the church is not immune to ageism.

I attend an older-skewing congregation, so leaders are alert to seniors who might not drive at night, so few evening meetings are scheduled. Bathroom stalls accommodate walkers and wheelchairs on the stair-free campus.

Outreach to children and families is important, but hopefully all congregations also budget for reaching older adults. With society’s changing dynamics impacting the development of spiritually healthy children, I pray that older adults everywhere are recruited to share their faith stories cross-generationally.

Attitudes won’t change overnight. However, our personal outlook and actions can encourage others to look beyond the numbers, so we all celebrate each day we are given.

We can join with one of the Cottage Grove church-goers who was quoted by the Pioneer Press, “I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing.”

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