I have always been drawn to the statistical margins or, on the bell curve, to the sloping narrow edges of trends and groups. For instance, I was in the small group in Middle School that grew faster and taller than our peers. On the upside, I could walk down the hallway and see over everyone’s heads. On the downside, I had to be a jeans-clad cowboy in my sixth grade ballet recital rather than wearing the cute twirly girly skirt.
Other edged cohorts that I occupy have to do with my birthday. As an October child, I was the second to last person in my class to get a driver’s license. Given my birth year, 1962, I fall at the narrow edge of the Boomer Generation in the middle of a four-year period which the Boomers would like to cast off and disown. And yet those of us born between 1960 and 1964 have too much in common with the Boomers that researchers just won’t give us over to the Gen Xs. Membership in these cohorts is beyond my control, and yet they have shaped me and how I view the world.
Sometimes we find ourselves being compared to other groups based on choices that we do make. Although I entered seminary during the growing wave of women in the mid 1980’s, I was at the edge of this group based on my age. As the average age of the women students was 40 at the time, I remained one of the youngest in the school, even by the time of graduation.
Another choice, getting married to Dave between college and seminary, placed us in another small group: clergy couples. I was reminded many times of the statistical warning that our marriage was more likely to fail than in those marriages in which one spouse worked outside of ministry. It was a risk that we felt called to take and which proved to be very rewarding.
Once we chose to serve in the same setting of ministry following seminary graduation, we quickly realized that we needed to supplement the small church’s salary. Thus began our tent-making ministry. Although this is a much larger trend today, twenty-five years ago we were on the margins, not knowing anyone else trying to balance ministry with outside employment. My twenty-year career of giving piano lessons began even before our first child was born and was augmented by other creative endeavors. Even in our second ministerial setting, we chose to share one full-time position in order for both of us to be present as parents to our two young children. The privilege of parenting while serving a growing congregation was the greatest joy and the most difficult balancing point of the first quarter century of my ministry.
Seven years into this ministry setting and a year following the death of my father, my mother and sister decided to move to be nearer our kids. We built an intergenerational home for the six of us. Dubbed the “Group Home,” it continues to be the place that gathers family and friends. It has been a gift to live in this intergenerational household. Our children knew immediately how unusual our home was and now, enjoying their own twenty-something journeys, recognize the rich benefits that they have gained from their intergenerational home.
Two years ago, during what we call our year of “extreme” empty nesting, while our kids were living on two different continents, I received a new call. I resigned as a member of the Board of Directors of United Church Homes in order to take the staff position of Director of Church and Community Relations. For 99 years, United Church Homes’ ministry has been with seniors on the statistical margins providing health care and retirement communities in Ohio for over 1,300 people and providing low-income housing for 2,600 seniors in 13 states.
Before considering ministry, I had envisioned getting a degree in gerontology. Now, after turning 50 myself and with over 27 years of pastoral ministry, I have the opportunity to work on behalf of the age group that has always been dear to me. Very few of us look forward to entering the margin that aging leads us to and yet, if we are fortunate enough to live a long life, we will all have this opportunity. The question is: What can we learn from the research that is being done at this margin’s edge, and how can we view this margin as a time and place of rich and significant spiritual growth for our senior members and for the life of the church in general?