I'm Young, Damn It

This week, I went on the Spring Clergy Retreat hosted annually by my denomination. I was interested in this particular program because it was about art and I'm hitting a wall in my prayer life where I needed and wanted some new energy in my drawn prayers.

I have never been to one of these retreats before. I have not gone for a very specific reason. I'm at least 30 years younger than all of my colleagues -- and though I don't feel this is a barrier when those that I call peers are often older than I am, it's the first remark that graces my colleagues lips. This time was no different. I was singled out for my age. I was told that I was younger than their children. I was told that I could be their grandchild. I am not graceful or gentle when these comments are made. For me, there's nothing gentle about wanting colleagues.

Of course, it so happened that this was the theme of the retreat for me. It wasn't at all about art. It wasn't about my prayer life. It was about my youth. Damn it.

The context of my ministry is in an area of our country where there aren't many young people. There is a seminary in the area. In fact, there are two that aren't far from me -- but most of the graduates from these institutions that serve the churches in my context are second career women and men. And so, I don't fit the mold. I constantly enter into the conversation that there is a trend in seminaries now that reveals the opposite that we see here. There are more young people in seminary. They are just not here. Of course, these eager elders want to know what will draw young people to our churches here in the snowy North.

The answer in my eyes is obvious. I want to look them narrowly in the eyes and proclaim, "Well... You want young clergy to act like you. Stop it. Really. Stop. We're not you. Don't call us for what we represent. Call us for who we are." In the four years that I've been ordained, serving the same church, I've struggle with these assumptions of who I am as a young person. I constantly force the reminder that I'm not the same age as their college-aged kids. I'm not  even a millenial. Really. I took the quiz. I'm so not a millenial. I'm Gen-X if anything but I really don't want to be placed in an age bracket. I want to be who God called me to be without having to fit neatly into a box. I don't want to be seen for my age.

In the church, we honor everything that is old. If it has been around for a long time, we think it's good. The old chalice connects us with the founders of the church. The old Bible connects us with the language that some of our members heard as kids. The old preacher obviously has more experience and knowledge. His gray hair proves it. He's been around the block a couple of times and can relate to the vastness of human experience. There is no point of entry for me. I'm young. I push for new language, chalices that connect us to a global community and highlight my hair to celebrate my youth. (I miss being a towhead.) I celebrate older women (and even men) and the validation that they need for their own calls in the wisdom of their age -- but that pushes me out. It gives me no place. Plus, in my worst self, I can't help but think that the church is going to die with these old crones. I don't really believe that. I want to think that there is another way where we can celebrate a new thing -- even a young thing. After all, isn't that in the Bible?


Anonymous said...

Oh I so completely sympathise. The ray of hope I would offer is that it doesn't take many of us young folk to start to feel like there's more of a critical mass - 2 or 3 others and suddenly you're 'normal'. But oh, yes.

Anonymous said...

You aren't alone. I'm 40 and usually the youngest person in my clegry group. Many of those guys should know better. They came out of seminary and into the parish when they were in their 20s; they've just forgotten what it was like.

And yes it is offensive for them to assume that your youth means you represent the average demographic. If you did, you wouldn't be a (mainline protestant) pastor. And, no, just because you are young doesn't also equate with being into praise music and "contemporary" worship.

Connect with other clergy through FB, your denom, your seminary alumni, and if you haven't already, join the Young Clergywoman Project.

Pastor Peters said...

I should have added that I know I'm not alone -- and this isn't a complaint that's unique to me. I've done all of the connecting I can do and I love my YCW sisters. More than I can tell.

However, I'm still frustrated. It bothers me that 50 is young in the eyes of the church. We've got ourselves caught in a terrible dilemma.

Songbird said...

Until you came along, *I* was the youngest clergyperson in our Association. At least I'm not 30 years older than you are. But at 49, on the other side of the break from the 50-somethings and with a very different view on the world than they have, mostly, I feel neither one of them nor one of the young. When looking for Synod delegates, our Conference minister referred to "under 30s" and "over 50s." Where the heck does that leave me? I'm well aware that my age group is also woefully under-represented in churches, both among pastors and among laity. I'm not young. I'm not old. Sometimes it feels invisible.

Songbird said...
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Byrde said...

I laughed, cynically, as I read this post, because next week I head off to my regional clergy conference where I will be the youngest person there by, if not 30 years, still a couple of decades.
50 should not be young in the eyes of the Church. For that matter, I should not be all that young in the eyes of the Church. My teenagers, they should be young and encouraged to speak and be listened to. sigh. I'm working on it.

Sarah S-D said...


i hear both you and songbird on this. sigh.