Several years ago, my family moved to a new town and started attending the church at the corner of our neighborhood. Looking for a way to contribute, I soon found myself helping with the monthly newsletter, and eventually publishing the whole thing as I became familiar with the different groups within the church congregation.
The newsletter included the sections you might expect: a note from the pastor, a list of upcoming events, a missions report, etc. But there was a section that I insisted on writing each month, which was more important to me than any other. I called it the “Senior Profile.”
This section of the newsletter was a special portion set aside to profile one special senior member, or a couple, who had been an important part of the church for a long time. It was a way for me to get to know the church’s founding members and share their stories with the growing congregation.
Discovering our roots
Having recently joined this church, I had a lot to learn about the people who’d built it. I don’t mean the folks who built the actual building, although some of the seniors I interviewed did have a hand in that. I mean the people whose families had been a part of the church for generations, and who helped shape the congregation into what it was today.
My profiles were only a few paragraphs long, as space was limited, but my interviews with the seniors I picked each month went on for hours. I sat in their homes, ate their pie, looked at old photos and listened to stories about people I wished I’d had a chance to know. I made connections with these seniors and their families, and their roots, in some ways, became my roots, too, because we were part of one church family now.
Preserving their smiles
I wrapped up my interviews with a photo. I’m not the best photographer around, but I was proud of the pictures I captured, because each one showed the warm and comfortable smiles my hosts had been giving me all through our visits. I was glad to preserve these senior smiles in the colorful pages of the church newsletter.
Today, on church websites and brochures, most of the faces I see are young. The elderly members of the church are pushed aside, into the background, to make room for glossy blurbs about singles programs, classes for families, and options for youth of all ages. Those are all great, but it sure seems like something is missing.
Holding on to our connections
The church my family joined back in our old neighborhood was decades old. One of the women I interviewed had attended there since it was a little, white one-room church her family had helped build when she was a baby, nearly 80 years before. Some other families had ties going back nearly as long.
I didn’t have connections like those to that church, but I wanted to hold on to the connections I’d found. I wanted to learn to bake with the ladies, using recipes decades old, for the annual sale in the fall. I wanted to sing cherished hymns with the choir, at least part of the time, in place of the modern selections favored by the worship team. I wanted to hold hands with our seniors and remember the values their families had stood for over those many, many years.
If you are lucky enough to be part of a church with a rich history and many living seniors, don’t take that for granted. Don’t wait for someone like me to come along and chronicle their lives in the few paragraphs space will permit. Go, sit with them, and listen to their stories. You won’t regret it.