By Heather Davis
Last summer, my family of five traveled to my hometown to be a part of my baby sister’s wedding. While in town we joined another sister, along with her family and several members of our extended family, for Sunday worship. But we did not gather at anyone’s home church. Instead we drove to a neighboring town to hear the preaching of a former minister of ours who had recently moved back to the area. This man is very special to our family, not only because he performed the wedding ceremony for my husband and me but also because he was instrumental in our early Christian development. Our children were excited to meet the man who had become our version of a rock star, and the rest of us looked forward to his solid, biblical preaching.
The building his church meets in is very traditional, complete with a carpeted sanctuary lined with pews adorned with Bible and hymnal holders on the backs and a choir loft behind the pulpit. I was already sentimental because the last time I had been in such a building surrounded by the same family members, listening to the same man preach was before my Pappaw’s death. Oddly, however, what got to me the most and brought tears was the presence of several older gentlemen dressed in their suits. It wasn’t only the fact that my Pappaw used to be one of those guys; I simply realized how much I had missed seeing them on Sunday mornings.
You see, the church my family attends does not have a building to call our own. We meet in a school, and a large amount of equipment is used to create an environment referred to as our worship space. There is nothing traditional about the look or feel of our Sunday meetings—we have folding metal chairs, portable screens and speakers, and a variety of other compromises that must happen in order to turn a school gymnasium into the modern equivalent of the sanctuary of yesteryear. None of this bothers me in the least, in part because our church body has not rejected tradition entirely. We sing plenty of contemporary praise and worship songs, but we also maintain a healthy dose of the good, old hymns that are replete with solid theology. I am so grateful for that.
But I do miss seeing the older gentlemen in their suits.
OK, I will grant you that there are several persnickety older men and women who can be old-fashioned and critical to a fault of all that is new. They like things the way they used to be. They are not all fans of change. They can sometimes be difficult to please. Their refusal to try something new can be exasperating, and they may seem downright ornery in their insistence on clinging to tradition.
However, I recognize that they are not always wrong in their tenacity to preserve old ways. What those of us in the younger generations label as stubbornness and failure to embrace progress is actually a pulling back from a path that their experience proves to be fraught with danger. My own generation could do with a little more caution and reluctance to accept every change. Almost the polar opposite of the octogenarians, my age tends to be quick to reject what is so last week and embrace the latest fad, be it a phone, a fashion trend, the latest Christian book, or a more club feeling worship style. Sadly, we often fling out beauty along with the ashes of the past. We sometimes forget the biblical exhortation in 1 Peter 5:5: “You who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.”
I am concerned that if churches sever all links to the past and its traditions, we risk losing a sense of heritage. I believe that we need some elements of conventional worship to remain in our Sunday services. These traditions can serve as reminders that even in our fast-paced, rapidly changing technological world, we worship a timeless God who defies fads and trends—a God who is the self-described Ancient of Days. In a world that values the exciting and new above the tried and true, it is good to maintain a sense of something older than ourselves, something less transient and fickle.
Besides all of that, the oldest generation has a tremendous amount of wisdom to impart to the patient younger people willing to listen. Many of them have walked with the Lord for decades. Not all are sages, I grant you, but perhaps many are far closer to that achievement than my peers. My generation mustn’t get the idea that just because our ideas are younger and fresher that they are either right or good. That is an arrogance we simply cannot afford as the body of Christ. We must remember that older generations have survived times that younger generations can only imagine or experience vicariously in historical novels. And some day my peers and I will become that generation trying to communicate our experiences to younger people.
It is true that the world has changed dramatically from the one the Greatest Generation grew up in. However, the hard lessons gleaned from knowing want and deprivation during the Great Depression, from learning to trust God when evil seemed to have a gloating upper hand in the person of Adolf Hitler, and from hard work and determination during some very dark times should not be simply discarded. Young people may think it’s odd that senior citizens do not know how to use the Internet or text us back. But our older friends very likely see younger folks as silly because we miss the subtle expression of irony on a human face or lack the doggedness to dig deeper for information than a 45-second Google search provides. Younger generations may know a great deal about technology and creating environments, but older generations know a lot more about people and about making do with whatever environment is available.
I have no wish to idolize any generation, for surely there are as many who only marginally know the Lord in an older group as there are in the younger set. However, I am thinking of the faithful who have truly served the Lord their God with their lives and hearts and minds for many years. When these dear souls have gone home to Heaven, I feel that we will lose a profound link to the heritage of the Christian of yesterday—the Christian who worshiped God because he was God and not because it made a person feel good on Sunday; the Christian who did not have to be made to feel as if he belonged; he knew he belonged because God said he did. And that Christian dressed up for Sunday service, proud to be called a child of the King.
Heather Davis is a freelance writer in Spring Hill, Tennessee.