What did Protestant Baby Boomers Do for Lent When They Were Kids?

Okay, if you grew up Protestant, especially in the Reformed tradition, back during the decades of the Baby Boom, what did you do for Lent? Many of us went to Church and Sunday School back then because it was the thing that one did. But do any of you remember doing anything special for Lent? I can remember my Catholic friends having to give something up for the six weeks leading to Easter, often candy or desserts, but sometimes a favourite TV show. And although it wasn’t Lent, I remember my Jewish school chums also celebrating a very special meal called Passover, which often seemed to coincide with our Easter. But for the life of me, I cannot remember doing anything during the Season of Lent at the United Church where I grew up in the sixties and early seventies.

          In the last twenty-five to thirty years, our Protestant churches have tried to introduce practices that would highlight this important season in our Church year. We have used Lenten candle liturgies with our children in worship, a kind of reverse Advent candle liturgy. (Come to think of it, we didn’t have Advent wreaths when I was growing up either!) Instead of lighting a candle for every week, you snuff one out until you finally come to Good Friday when all the candles are snuffed out, symbolizing the death of Christ.

          Nowadays many of us crave more ritual and spiritual practices in our day to day lives. Ritual helps to ground us and connect us more deeply to one another and to our faith. Today we have Shrove Tuesday Pancake Suppers, Ash Wednesday Services, Lenten devotions and of course one or two special services during Holy Week. But when I was a kid I don’t even remember having a Good Friday service. For that matter, we did not celebrate Christmas Eve either.

          So what did we do? Does anyone remember? I would love to hear from you!

It’s Family Day! Boomers Burning the Candle at Both Ends Need to Take Time for Family and Themselves

          Today is Family Day in Canada. It is still a relatively new holiday here, but a good reminder that we need to take some time to dedicate to the nurture of our family. It is also a welcome break in the middle of a bitterly cold, snowy albeit mostly sunny winter. Of course we should take time every day to honour our families and those who are close to our hearts.

          Unfortunately, this has been a lesson that many Baby Boomers have learned the hard way. Throughout our lives we have worked extremely long hours, often sacrificing our families on the altar of career advancement. This is especially true of those who entered the ministry.

For example, in my own life, one of the things I have struggled with is the belief that I can do it all. When I entered theological college in the late seventies, women were just beginning to flood the previously male-dominated seminary halls, and this, even though the first time a woman was ordained in the United Church of Canada occurred some forty years earlier when Lydia Gruchy was ordained in 1936. Few Canadians realize that for nearly thirty years thereafter only single women could be ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacraments. I still remember the older female colleague who called on me one day to congratulate me on my recent ordination and to see my new baby. My heart broke as she told me that when she was ordained back in the mid-1950s she had to choose between getting married and having a family or going into full-time ordained ministry. My generation of women, on the other hand, had been given choices that had never been available to her. That said, because the doors now seemed to open wide to me and my sisters in ministry, many of us believed we could do it all and have it all — a full-time ministry in the church and a family — and we nearly killed ourselves in the process!

Moreover, because we were still trying to prove that we could minister just as effectively as our male counterparts, we often burnt the candle at both ends. To this day, I profoundly regret a decision I made to leave my two-year-old daughter and her three-week-old baby brother to take part in a three-day meeting several hours from where we lived. While I had a wonderfully supportive husband and a dear friend who loved the children as her own, my place in those early days should have been at home enjoying this precious time with my little ones. I would like to say that I learned my lesson by the time my two younger sons were born, but that would not be true. I was still trying to keep up with the guys!

 The good news is that in the last few years I have witnessed real changes taking place in the lives of my younger colleagues, male, female and transgender, who have better personal boundaries when it comes to protecting their family time.

I still have a lot of improvement to make with regard to establishing healthy boundaries to protect my time with my family. But this is a start. That’s why I plan to enjoy Family Day today with my loved ones. I hope you will too!

Using Ritual in Covid Times to Connect the Generations and Make Meaning Together

          In recent years I have been fascinated by the work of Rabbi Richard Address of Jewish Sacred Aging and his colleagues as they have explored questions around the role and value of ritual in older adult relationships. For many years anthropologists have believed that ritual is not only important to mark significant transitions in life, but also as way to create meaning and help people better understand who they are.

          One of the pioneers in the field of ritual, especially as it relates to people in later life, is the late cultural anthropologist Barbara Myerhoff. In summarizing Myerhoff’s research, Sherylyn Briller and Andrea Sankar note that Myerhoff felt that “rituals are important in daily life because they carry a basic message of ‘order, continuity, and predictability.’ It is precisely their predictable and repetitive nature that gives them their power.”[1]

          In times of change when life is more uncertain, rituals help to provide people with a connection to their past, while supporting them as they navigate transitions. Rituals offer stability and help people to make sense of their world.

          I can think of no time that is in more need of a sense of stability and continuity than the present. As we live through the Covid-19 pandemic, we need practices and people we can count on. We need the gift of ritual in our lives and this is especially true for our older adults.

          My friend Catherine sees her 92-year-old mother several times a week, often picking up prescriptions for her or various items she might need from the grocery store. But one activity in particular that both mother and Baby Boomer daughter look forward to each week is brunch on Sunday morning. That’s when they sit and watch their church’s worship service, which is broadcast on their community television station.  Catherine says that this is much better than watching the service on one’s own, which can sometimes feel more like a spectator sport. As she observes, this is an “immersive” experience for them where they actually get to participate in worship. Catherine brings a lovely meal along with some delicious home baking and together they share good food, good conversation and a time of worship – something that in pre-Covid days they had enjoyed doing together when communities of faith were allowed to gather in person.

          This wonderful weekly ritual gives them both grounding during what has been a difficult and tumultuous year. It brings them together through a shared experience that is both meaningful and life-giving. What’s more: they have fun together!

[1] Briller, Sherylyn, and Andrea Sankar. “The Changing Roles of Ritual in Later Life.” Generations: Journal of the American Society on Aging 35, no. 3 (2011): 6-10. Accessed February 7, 2021. doi:10.2307/26555787.

Beliefs That Guide Us Through Life

Thanks to Rev. Kevin Steeper for referring me to a new book on retirement written by Bruce G. Epperly, a Process theologian whose writings I have followed for some time: The Jubilee Years. Embracing Clergy Retirement. Although my own book on retirement, ReDesigning Your Life. A Practical Spirituality for the Second Half of Life, takes a more applied or hands-on approach to preparing for retirement, including discussion topics centered in scripture and exercises for small groups, we cover many of the same themes. What I love about this scholarly although very accessible work by Epperly is that it grounds the discussion in our theology. Not surprising since Epperly, among his many accomplishments, has taught theology at the university level.

Chapter two of Epperly’s book is appropriately titled “Theological Guideposts.” He begins with a wonderful quote from his longtime friend, retired United Church of Canada minister George Hermanson, whom many of us remember from his years as innovative Director of Five Oaks in Paris, Ontario. Advising clergy who are about to retire, Hermanson writes: “Get a theology. My theology has enabled me to see retirement as a time of possibility and hope. Without a theology, you don’t have a roadmap for the adventure ahead.”

This may seem rather odd counsel when so much of the retirement literature focusses on finances and health care concerns or planning for winters in the south — when the borders open up again and for those who can afford it. But as Epperly observes, “Theology provides light on our pathway and enables us to face life’s challenges with hope and grace. Theology helps us to respond to new possibilities along with the necessary losses and ‘unfixables’ of the aging process.” In his own life, Epperly has found Lamentations 3:22-23 to be a helpful resource for his personal and professional life and believes these verses will serve him well in retirement too. You may remember that it is from these lines that we get the wonderful hymn: “Great is thy Faithfulness.”

I wonder. What is the foundational theology or belief that has guided you throughout your life? And how can this continue to bring you hope and faith as you journey through the second half or even final third of your life, including retirement? As a young person I memorized many scripture passages that have stayed with me my whole life long. One which I bring to mind whenever I am facing a new or challenging and possibly anxious or disquieting situation is from Psalm 56:3: “What time I am afraid I will trust in Thee.” Of course, in those days we still used the King James Version of the bible; however, the meaning is the same in the New Revised Standard version. It just sounds less poetic!

As I anticipate retirement sometime in the next decade, I am filled with apprehension. Will I have enough money to retire? Will I be healthy enough to enjoy the things I still want to do in life? More importantly, how will I find meaning and purpose and friendship when so much of these life-giving treasures have come to me through my work in congregational ministry?

Over the coming weeks I will explore these and other themes dealt with by Epperly, whose book I hope you will read. Although aimed primarily at clergy, there is much here to commend to Boomers from all walks of life.