That new class of seniors

August 17, 2010 | Editorial | Number 15
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

“One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it is such a nice change from being young. Being young is beautiful, but being old is comfortable,” was one of the more endearing lines coming out of Assembly 2010 in Calgary, Alta.

There were many good lines coming out of this year’s annual gathering of Mennonite Church Canada delegates, but this one from the ever-gregarious Elsie Rempel in her profile of the “new seniors” topped them all. Insisting on a new “class” of seniors, which includes baby boomers born since World War II, she worked hard at convincing her audience how unfair it is to categorically throw all those over 50 into one big refuse bin of church and society.

“These people [herself included, of course] have lots of life and vitality in them,” she posited, “and shouldn’t be written off just yet as confined to the front porch rocking chair.” They are, in fact, technologically fluent, geographically mobile, theologically informed and “called to accept the challenges of working with God toward intergenerational harmony in our families, church and society.”

She borrowed an image from Robert J. Suderman’s book God’s People Now! describing the baby boomer bulge like a pig in a python: “Because of the abnormal size of the pig, it will be possible to trace its progress as it moves through the long, digestive process of the snake.” Suderman has noted that upwards of 50 percent of MC Canada’s congregations have a senior demographic bulge, a trend that will only increase as Canada’s aging population is projected to grow to 25 percent of the population during the next 20 years.

Since many of these are currently of the “sandwich generation”—caring simultaneously for aging parents and for young adults still at home—they are uniquely qualified to relate to the church’s children and grandchildren with the same patience they show their own grandchildren. And to their own elders. You might say they are on Facebook and in touch with the hospice in the same 24-hour cycle!

To top it off, she claimed that these people are more financially comfortable, having opportunity to plan for retirement and invest profitably towards that goal.

The beauty of the lively assembly session was its juxtaposition with Dave Bergen’s profiling of today’s young adults, those 18- to 30-year-olds often referred to as the millennial generation or Gen Y, or even the “thumb generation” because of how much they use their thumbs to text and communicate.

Not at all like their baby boomer parents, they are the next demographic bulge to which the North American church should pay attention, as they now outnumber the boomers for the first time and are the “most culturally diverse population ever.”

More like their grandparents than their parents, Bergen said they are “distinctly their own group, are more ‘spiritual’ than ‘religious,’ are consummate communicators and tech-savvy, are likely to quit a high-paying job for a lower-paying one with more ‘meaning,’ are innovators [creative, energetic collaborators] with a ‘can-do’ attitude, and require a lot of reassurance since they’ve grown up feeling special [their parents have told them so].”

The hope is that these two distinct groups—the new seniors and Gen Y—will perceive how much more unites them than divides them, closing the gap between young and old in any given setting. Hopefully, too, it can stop the handwringing about a worrisome exodus of our young adults from the Mennonite faith.

Meet your board member

Doreen Martens of Oakville, Ont., is the newest member of Canadian Mennonite’s 12-member board, representing MC Canada. Team editor for urban affairs for the Toronto Star, she is a member of Toronto United Mennonite Church, having served on its worship and missions and service committees, and as editor of its monthly newsletter. Married to Jeff Taylor, they are the parents of two adult children. She can be reached via e-mail at dmartens@pathcom.com or by phone at 905-829.9640.

Doreen Martens

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