In the Middle: Intersection between Age & Wisdom

Photo by Dan Meyer

I am a member of the Committee to Review Biennial Assemblies. This committee was tasked to research and suggest changes to the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. We surveyed hundreds of past General Assembly commissioners and staff, asking them what message would they like to convey to this committee. We overwhelmingly heard “Dream big,” “Think outside the box,” “Make substantive changes.” We took that message to heart when we came up with the recommendations on our report.

One of the recommendations addressed the disparity of age at General Assemblies. At this year’s General Assembly, seven percent of commissioners are under the age of 45, which means there are twice as many commissioners over the age of 65 than under 40. Our recommendation made it possible for there to be more commissioners under the age of 36 with full voice and vote at General Assembly which is different than Young Adult Advisory Delegates (ages 17-23) who only get an advisory vote. While there are many challenges for young people to participate at this level of the Church or their own local church for that matter (family responsibilities, unable to take time off from work, etc.), the criticism I am most perplexed about but hear time and time again is that young people do not possess the wisdom to vote and consider the business at General Assembly. (Note: this recommendation to add more younger commissioners did not pass in committee.)

Age has long been equated to wisdom. The older you get, the more wisdom you acquire. I don’t dispute that. As I get older, my experiences in life and in the world have definitely sharpened my beliefs and ability to articulate those beliefs and opinions. As I get older, I am better at holding to my convictions while hearing another perspective. As I get older, I am able to see the world and live in the grey and let go of dichotomous views. The question for me is what kind of wisdom are we talking about?

We no longer live in a world where experience guarantees that one has knowledge on how to move through conflict, make necessary changes, or move through a process. The kind of wisdom that I have seen from young people is a different kind of wisdom than the one we attach with age. For me, I find that I have a limited time to speak to this issue given my age. I know I look like I just got my driver’s license, but I will be 39 years old next month. It’s a weird age to be in the Presbyterian Church because only in the Presbyterian Church am I considered a young’un. I am easily lumped in with the teenagers and those just graduating from college, even though I have a master’s, been in ministry for 9 years, married for 11, and have 2 children.

And as I approach 40, I am very cognizant that I will be in this weird limbo zone of not being quite young, but not being quite old. I’m in the middle – in the middle of two age groups that either can’t let go of power or can’t get any depending on how you look at it. So, while I am a year away from turning 40, let me speak about the wisdom of the young. Here are examples of wisdom I have seen young people – 36 years old and under – bestow in my church, my presbytery, and here at General Assembly. By giving these examples, I will let you decide whether or not young people are wise enough to make decisions that affect the Church.

The Church

All over the country, we are faced with the challenge of closing churches. Many ask what is the best process to go about closing a church that is with integrity and grace. My presbytery is no different. We have some churches that clearly need to be in the discernment process of whether or not it is time to close, but it is unclear how to go about doing that. My friend and colleague, Rev. Abby King Kaiser, who is in her 20’s led her church through a thoughtful and faithful process of discernment, where they decided together to close the church. After the decision, she organized trips to other nearby churches to help them find a new church home. On top of that, she guided the presbytery on how to engage with her congregation during this process.

The Presbytery

Even though I’m a little older than 36, I have been a huge part in revamping the way we do presbytery meetings and bringing healthy change. I previously wrote a blog of some of the changes including introducing different process modalities to our decision making process.

The Committee

The committee I serve on to review biennial assemblies has nine people on it – 4 of which are under the age of 40. Many of the recommendations made on the report was from the significant input, research, and perspectives given from them. Two were former Young Adult Advisory Delegates; one goes to Princeton, one works in international justice issues; one is the incoming chair of the General Assembly Mission Council; and I am currently the moderator of my presbytery.

The General Assembly

At this General Assembly, I have sat in on committees and witnessed Young Adult Advisory Delegates articulate in meaningful ways that swayed a committee; speak with passion that moved their committee; and grasp concepts of the bigger picture in moments when committee was bogged down in minutiae. And let me remind everyone that this General Assembly voted for a moderator and vice moderator who are in their 30’s to lead them for the next two years. If they are qualified enough to lead then why are they not qualified to be considered wise enough to vote?