The Church of the White Middle Aged Woman

So last week, I was out of town in Washington, D.C. and attended mass at a lovely community that came highly recommended to me. What I found there was a confirmation of much that I’ve noticed nationwide.

I looked at the altar and saw three white female altar servers all over the age of 40. The lectors were both white, one male, one female (the male was a lousy lector by the way) both, I suspect, over 35. All of the eucharistic ministers were over the age of 50 and they were all white women.

I can hear female baby boomers applauding this. If so, you might want to stop reading because I’m not sharing in your enthusiasm. Why? When I looked to the back half of the church, it was filled with younger men and women, most of them recent graduates of nearby universities. Presumably , none of them have been invited into ministry.

Repeatedly, over the years, I’ve heard from a number of people in the church that when it comes to ministers on the altar “we don’t need anymore men up there.” I can understand the sentiment. Women are not eligible to be ordained priests and therefore we should give them the opportunity to serve at the altar as much as possible. Women who have fought for equal treatment for women for years in the church are predominantly baby boomers. And because they are in the majority in our church (and have been now for some time), the opportunities are slim for younger people simply because older people don’t invite them into ministry when they see them.

Younger people in the Catholic church are by and large on foreign ground. They don’t know the rituals and symbols because Catholic practice has waned as a part of the family unit, the parents of younger people today have not always made religious practice a priority and therefore they don’t either. When they enter our churches, they don’t see anyone who looks like them in roles of ministry often. (That’s why the young priest is often popular, by the way!). The few that are involved are most likely involved because their family always have been involved in church.

I want to also cite my own failure as a now “semi-middle aged” male of 41 (and yet, still one of the younger ones, my baby boomer colleagues will tell me) and as a minister in the church. I don’t invite enough young people into ministry and I especially don’t invite younger men all that often. I sometimes am timid and shy around new people and need experiences with people to break the ice.

That ends today.

I’m issuing a challenge, it’s to myself but it’s also to all of those people who have been so active and vibrant and to whom the church should be more grateful for their service for these many years.

We’re not all that old, but we’re also not all that young. We’ve got a limited time to invite the younger people around us into roles that others invited us into. So this Sunday, simply put, invite someone who is “not you” into ministry. It could be:

– Your husband or child
– A young family who sits near you
– A graduate student or a recent grad who you’ve seen around
– Anybody who recently got married (Pastors and marriage ministers could send them all a letter very easily–even better would be a direct ask)
– University Students
– Someone who you know is Catholic and who is a great speaker (a lector awaits!)
– The young woman with an inviting attitude simply by her presence
– The quiet guy who prays piously at Mary’s statue after mass each week

For myself, I’ve done some of this before, but need to do better. I recently invited a young couple to get more involved with our university students and they were so honored to be asked. Last year, I asked a young haitian woman to be a eucharistic minister and she accepted and then went on to lead our spring social justice project and our alternative spring break.

So there are great rewards ahead for those who dare to reach out just a bit.

This Sunday, I’m finding a young African man who I’ve been friendly with lately and I’m going to ask him if he’d consider being a eucharistic minister. There are dozens of newly marrieds that I’m asking to get more involved each time I see them, one whom I know can be a great lector.

The message of the day is that it’s too intimidating for them to ask you how they can get involved. We need to break the ice. We need to openly ask for their gifts not in an announcement that says “all those willing to be eucharistic ministers, ushers, lectors, come after mass to sign up.” But rather, we need to be more like Christ and say “I want you! Come follow me.” This is all part of being a welcoming community and we cannot afford to fail.

Our protestant brothers and sisters are all too happy to do this every time we don’t. There’s a reason that the biggest denomination out there is former Catholics. For most, their reason for leaving is boredom and the more involved one can get, the less likely they are to be bored.

I hope you can take this challenge not as a criticism, or even as a lack of appreciation for all you have been for the church (especially the thousands of women who rightfully deserve our respect). Rather, I hope you see this as an opportunity to be generative, to be mentors not of a future, but of today. For our twenty and thirty somethings are the now of our church. And we cannot afford to waste another second of not inviting them to be a more vibrant part of the Eucharistic meal.

Have fun growing your ministry of today. And let me know your success stories and struggles.