There is so much despair over declining involvement in churches today. Over the past few years I have participated in several groups composed of church leaders from around the country, and this topic dominates conversation. But recently, at one of these gatherings, the leader began our time in a more hopeful way. She said, “Share with another person how you came to be involved in a United Methodist church.”
I paused to think about that. I’ve been in the UMC so long it took a few minutes for me to trace my roots. It goes back to my early teenage years when my parents moved us across town in Winston-Salem, NC. My family wasn’t active in a church, and I was at a very formative time and wanting to fit in somewhere. I was already finding how this search could quickly land me in the wrong circles.
But thanks to Boy Scouts I found a Methodist Church. I enjoyed going to worship mostly because other guys in the troop did, but soon I found my own place. I don’t remember exactly how this happened, but I ended up singing in the choir by the time I started high school. I sat between two men, Wade Poole and Spurgeon Smith, who went by “Spug”. They took me in like a son, or more accurately, a grandson. I enjoyed singing, but honestly that wasn’t why I stayed in the choir. I learned a lot as these two men tried to help me understand the difference between singing tenor and bass and that I really should stick with one or the other, but even that didn’t keep me. I stayed in the choir because they cared about me.
They asked about my life, what classes I liked, what sports I played and who my teachers were. While filing music in our folders at the start of a rehearsal Spug would ask, “How’d you make out on that algebra test this week?” As we headed to our cars after rehearsal, Wade would ask, “What colleges are you considering?” Sometimes they stopped by the Biscuitville where I worked, and it wasn’t because of the food! I came to be involved in church because of two old men who cared about me.
Perhaps the answer to our challenges in the United Methodist Church is just that simple, individual congregations like St. Luke’s caring about people, especially young people. We have a significant number of seniors in our church. Some people talk about the aging population of United Methodism as if it’s a liability. I see it as an asset. I believe younger people today are needing the wisdom of our greatest generation. We need the know-how of this generation to teach us how to do simple repairs and maintenance. We need the values of this generation that grew believing honesty and integrity mean something, and looking after one another is a way of life. And we need the faith of this experienced generation.
Our future may rest on this simple strategy: finding ways to get seniors connected to youth. That’s my story and I have no choice but to stick to it!