The Older Annual Conference
I’ve been watching the Florida Annual Conference off and on for the past few days. They stream it live (with post-vote commentary!) on their website for the whole world to see.
It’s probably a sick obsession with church polity or the fact that my wife is there and seeing a little glimpse of her here and there is a lot of fun, but either way…I’ve been watching. I watch as much of the voting sessions as I can stand, listen to a lot of the dialogue during discussion, and watch whatever of the worship service I can.
There’s been a small Facebook and Twitter campaign rolling around trying to get younger clergy and laity elected to serve as delegates to the General Conference next year.
And yet, when the election breaks down, there doesn’t seem to be as wide of a collection from all age groups, it tends to weigh heavily on the older populations.
Now, I was raised to respect my elders. I was raised to think of them as wise. I learned first hand how wise many of them can be. I learned first hand how correct many of them could be. Life does that to you, I guess. Life allows you to learn lessons that you’d only have learned from experience.
But I can also remember the times that I was listening to a pastor give a Children’s Moment on a Sunday morning and one of the children said something so brilliant, I had to write it down. I remember the times leading a small group at camp and one of the 6th graders made a theological observation that blew my mind. I also remember when I saw a 5th grader put his arm around an acquaintance (of the opposite race), who had been made fun of; he provided comfort and love that the acquaintance hadn’t yet experienced.
I mean, right? Those experiences will change your life. I can already think of several instances where I’ve seen the wiser, older people not act or speak in those ways because 1) it was not appropriate or 2) things had never been done or spoken of in that way before.
And so as I reflect on an Annual Conference that elects more older people than younger people to represent them to the General Church, I worry. Not because young people are better (the older were once younger, remember). And not because older people are better.
But because God speaks to and through people of all ages. God does things through the young AND the old. The Bible speaks to this time and time again.
It seems normal that in Florida, there would be a larger population of older members. It seems to make sense, then, that the voting would follow that breakdown: there are going to be more older delegates elected than young.
But, what if we worked to actively elect a broad range of ages? What if we said, “I think this 20-year-old has just as much to say as this 60-year-old”? What if we invested in the future and new leaders by providing them with the opportunity to feel as if they are a part of something real? What would it look like for an older candidate to look toward the younger candidates and campaign for them? What would it look like for new ideas to be treated with the same insight and respect as older ideas? What if the representation didn’t represent the age of people, but rather it would represent the way God treats and speaks through every individual?
I think it would look like the Church.