The church is one of the only places in culture where people of multiple generations make our lives together. This is the way God wants it. Augustine addresses God in prayer this way: “Beauty ever ancient, ever new.” I think here of an early church martyr named Polycarp who was ordered by the Romans to curse Christ. “I have followed him eighty-six years and he has done me no wrong. How can I curse my king who saved me?” I think too of John the Baptist leaping in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. The church stretches from the not-yet-born to those on the cusp of the next life.
This is also really difficult. Younger and older folks often struggle to understand one another. We all know this in our own families. Why would we think the church would be any different?
Yet it is crucial that all ages become God’s church together. Scripture promises that Israel’s “sons and daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young shall see visions” (Joel 2:28). This is fulfilled in the church at Pentecost according to Acts 2. How can the church be, like God, ever ancient and ever new?
I was delighted when Arnold Lester joined our church recently and added to our north-of-90 set. I am struck how often they tell me how pleased they are to see younger folks at our church. Bill Dixon, of blessed memory, used to know every child’s name at our church. Buck Robbins, also of blessed memory, was an advocate for children his whole life here. This church stood in for him when he had no father of his own, so he knew in his bones the church must be a surrogate parent for today’s young. When Gene Ammons joined us as one of our retired ministers he pointed to the regular infant baptisms we do as a reason. And when Leveda Law started worshiping as a retired missionary some of her fastest connections came among our young families.
I have been pleased with the way older members of our church have leapt in and joined me in leadership. I have asked for their help, being keenly aware of my own inexperience. Five of our most important committees are ad council, finance, missions, trustees, and staff-parish. Two of those groups have the same leader I inherited. The other three saw as their first new leader after I came someone decades older than the person in that chair when I arrived. All have been a privilege to work with.
Our visioning group, which has yielded our new mission language, is both seasoned and new. John Thomas has been one of the most active leaders in that group. Bob Dunnigan was gracious to lend his effort early on. Jim Deal and Bobby Sharp and Susan Jones have decades of leadership at our church. Even some of the younger folks, like Michaele Haas and Kelly Broman-Fulks, have nearly four decades of experience at our church between them. Altogether that group has more than 200 years of membership at our church.
One of the most exciting proposals that group has had, about which you will hear much much more, is for an elder care facility in our town. Part of our excitement is that a similar facility in West Jefferson (NC) intentionally puts their elders in relationship to their preschool kids. What a glimpse of the church—making our life together across four generations, dreaming dreams and seeing visions, becoming the church God dreams about.
Dr. Jason Byassee has been the senior pastor of Boone (NC) United Methodist Church since 2011. His church is an atypical mainline Protestant church which has continued to experience numerical and spiritual growth under his leadership, some of which if reflected in this pastoral epistle you read above. Previously Jason served at Duke Divinity School as Director of the Center for Theology Writing & Media, Special Assistant to the Dean, & Executive Director of Leadership Education (2008-2011) and as assistant editor of Christian Century, 2004-2008. He still serves as a contributing editor for the Christian Century and on many boards and professional organizations. Jason is the author of many excellent books and has been a friend of John H. Armstrong and ACT3 Network for over a decade.