I've been thinking, recently, about the tenor in our voices: the wide eyed curiosity that comes in the voice of a child; the outrage in the voice of a teenager who is discovering injustice in the world; the passion and hope of a better tomorrow in the voice of a young woman; the fatigue and concerns that weary the young mum's voice; the sensibility and perspective that resonate in the middle-aged woman's voice; and all those different experiences and seasons meddled with hard won joy and wisdom in the voice of an elderly woman.
As I'm sure you're aware, the Women's Ministry Committee has been working with the PCNSW General Assembly to work out ways in which we can engage women's voices in decision making forums. And for me it has posed the important question: do I listen well to women's voices in the every day? Or do I dismiss them, as too immature' too old or too traditional?
Within our own denomination, I keep hearing from older women that they feel as though they have nothing to contribute to theological and spiritual conversations in the Church. For many years the PWA believed (and allegedly, were told) that they should stay out of theological discussions and focus instead on their ministries. And so, they did, both in the local and state wide church: busying themselves with committee of management meetings and fundraising and fellowship.
These women developed reputations for caring only about their buildings and meetings, and remained silent observers on spiritual matters, feeling unqualified and unwelcome in those spheres. But our culture has changed, and more and more women have come through our churches wanting to engage in spiritual matters.
The younger women have higher levels of education than those who came before them, advanced careers, modern life pressures and differing views of what is important. We’re now seeing a great chasm between the senior and younger women in our churches and women’s ministries.
What have we lost from silencing the voices of older women in our churches?
We have lost stories of their hard won wisdom, through years of faithful obedience and clinging to Jesus through the different seasons and storms.
We have lost sight of the value that Scripture places on age-gained wisdom, glory attained through years of righteousness (Prov 16:31).
We have lost the beautiful example of Titus 2, as older women disciple younger women to live lives of faithfulness, strength, and submission so that God’s word will be honoured and not shamed.
How do we gain what we have lost?
For those of us who fall on the lower end of the age race, we are required to prayerfully and humbly extend arms of warmth to the widowed and elderly women in our Church. For me? I seek their prayer (so many are faithful prayer warriors!) and wisdom before going to my peers. I invite them to share their life experiences, and affirm their faithfulness to Jesus, wisdom and humble service. I acknowledge my own youth and lack of experience, and the ways in which I am yet to grow. And I strive to engage them as my theological equals, not dismissing their words but seeking to further understand their perspective and look to Scripture, together, to fill the gaps.
If a family is to work well, it engages and values the voices of the older and younger members. If a body is to work well, it responds to signals from both the internal and external organs. And for the Church, which is both a family and a body, it is important that we hear one another’s voices, sharing and discoursing, spurring one another on to good deeds, growing together and encouraging one another, all the more as we say the day approaching.