I have observed elderly people hanging onto the family home too long. It’s easy to understand why – it is a place of memories, a place of stories and a place of identity. Life has been celebrated there – all the ups and downs, all the comings and goings, all the laughter and the shouting, the sparkle and the tears, the loving and the sighs too deep for words.
But then there have been the other changes – a multitude of trip hazards ganging up, the empty nest, the loss of a life-partner, the garden that has become too difficult to maintain, the faded wallpaper, peeling paint, musty rooms, creaks, draughts, and a neighbourhood that has changed.
But the question of moving has not been permitted – it is one of those things we don’t talk about – Uncle Bob’s tendencies, sex, money… The resistance has been stoic. Family commissions have been convened – in secret. A delegation has been formed. The conversation has been awkward, angry and tearful. The delegation shrinks back. The burden of it all usually rests on one family member in particular.
Eventually the situation is forced by circumstances: the move into care. Family members trying to do their best are hated on. The bonds of love loosen in ways people could never have imagined.
I observe this and wonder about maturity. It seems as if a lot of people become like difficult teenagers in old age. Did they miss out on that “fun” when they were young? I wonder if the journey into adulthood stalled before the journey into self-reflection and wisdom.
Obviously there are circumstances that make each situation unique, but I wonder what it takes to develop and retain some sort of capacity for mature initiative as we age?
“Very truly I tell you,” says Jesus, “unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” [John 12:24] “Neither do people pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst; the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” [Matthew 9:17]
I want to play out this “elderly people hanging on to the family home too long” thing in terms of what is happening in many of our congregations. I wonder if there is a parallel?
Recently it was announced that the Anderson’s Bay Presbyterian Church signalled it had decided to close. It seems as if the people left made the call all by themselves. The load and burden of the buildings had become too much. Because of a range of circumstances they could no longer function and they approached the Presbytery and asked for their help to get it done.
I had never heard of such a thing! Usually (every other time?) the Presbytery has had to send in groups of people in various capacities over many years to address the problems and eventually force the closure through an often bitter processes.
The Presbytery people involved are like the hated-upon family members who have to force a decision on the elderly parent who has hung on far too long. If any of you have been involved in such a process, it is taxing, demoralising, hurtful and time-consuming. There is often the threat of complaint in the air and the weight of judicial scrutiny.
How many of our churches in the country are in the land of the elderly people hanging on to the family home too long? How do we commend to them the maturity and wisdom of the Anderson’s Bay Church community and help them complete the final chapter of the story with their dignity intact and the energy of the Presbytery focused in the right areas?
I am a believer in God raising things up. If something dies something else will emerge. God calls us to life. I wonder, given the significant number of places where the life is all but over, whether the mature thing to do is to give way so that the resources realised, and the energies of the Presbytery, can go into what God is doing next. How do we foster the necessary self-reflection and wisdom?
Martin is currently the minister at Village Presbyterian Church. He has served the church in various capacities at local, presbytery and national levels and is one of our regular Candour blog columnists.