Friday, December 28, 2018

If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours

Age discrimination was supposed to be a problem we solved years ago; but alas, it is still with us.  And, in my experience, it is especially true if you are clergy.

When I was a seminary dean/president, church search committees often got in touch with us looking for a new priest.  Every congregation wanted (though they didn't realize what they were asking) a priest who was under 40 with 20 years experience!  It got to be a joke among seminary faculties.  Our response: "Yeah, and it will happen as soon as we start ordaining them fresh out of high school!"

It was especially a problem in the Episcopal Church in those days because, while congregations wanted younger priests, Commissions on Ministry were only sending older candidates to seminary and telling younger candidates to go experience the real world and come back in 5 or 10 years.  I argued at the time that we were losing a whole generation, because the brightest and best were not coming back.  That is not to disparage the second career students I have known who became excellent priests, but it did result in a statistic (at one point) where the average Episcopal priest was 57 years of age, which is not sustainable from a pension standpoint, nor does it build healthy congregations for the ranks of its clergy to be monogenerational.

Now, in the Anglican Chuch in North America (ACNA), I am seeing the opposite extreme.  Every congregation wants, and most are getting, younger priests, even if it means skipping a traditional seminary education as the normal route toward ordination.  These congregations may as well hang out a sign, saying "Older clergy need not apply."  Along with this, I saw a post on Facebook the other day chiding Anglican churches for jettisoning liturgy, emulating the neighboring megachurch, and becoming, in effect, Anglicans in name only.  What do these have in common?  The common thread is a lack of regard for liturgy, tradition, age, and wisdom--and the pursuit of the newest, latest thing, even if the benefits from that new thing are largely imaginary.

If you're an Anglican, you need to remember that a crucial part of our heritage is standing in the tradition of genuine catholicity--that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all [meaning all the faithful] ("ubique, semper, et ab omnibus" in the words of the 5th century fighter of heresy, St. Vincent of Lerins).  Philosopher George Santayana's maxim "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it" is nowhere more true than in theology.  There are no new heresies.  We jettison the past and those things that keep us in touch with the past at our peril.  Yet that is precisely what the Church in many places is doing today.  And, while I have met older clergy who should have been jettisoned long ago (for their heterodoxy, not their age), by and large, we need to respect our elders and the wisdom we can learn from them.

So be an advocate for the older folks you know (clergy and others).  God willing, you'll be one of them someday.

For further reading:

If You’re Over 50, Chances Are the Decision to Leave a Job Won’t be Yours