Nearly 50 years ago, John Westerhoff published a book on Christian education which sold millions and was translated into no fewer than six different languages. In it Westerhoff posed a question that is even more urgent in 2022 than it was then: Will our children have faith?
In 1976, when Westerhoff published his book, the youngest Baby Boomers were twelve. It is generally agreed that Boomers were the last generation to fill United Church of Canada Sunday School classrooms and youth groups on a regular weekly basis. Does this make them more religious, more spiritual, or more faithful to the teachings of the Church? Not really. Those who have studied the United Church of Canada in depth have found that the desire to see our children raised in the church had less to do with the saving of souls and much more to do with creating people who would become good, hardworking, law-abiding citizens of Canada. Thus, when many of these Boomers were confirmed, they did what most young people do when they graduate from high school. They left. Their education complete, they were ready to embark on the path of responsible citizenship. Some of course stayed or, over the years, found their way back to church. But many did not. We taught them how to be good citizens, but we failed to give them a faith they could live for, a faith that would sustain them not only in the good times but also through the hard times.
We also failed to connect their own story with the story of Jesus Christ, so that with each generation the story grows dimmer and dimmer. And not surprisingly, so has our faith. As probably our greatest Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall writes, “A church that no longer asks about its theological foundations [ – about its founding story — ] will be absorbed, sooner or later, in the general secular mélange. It’s only a matter of time.”
Sadly, it seems that this is where we find ourselves today.
Last week you may recall that I talked about a lovely coming of age novel for those of us in the second half of life: Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting. This week I would like tell you about another novel from the same genre that I read over the summer: How the Penguins Saved Veronica by Hazel Prior.
The curmudgeonly but loveable Veronica McCreedy sits down one evening to watch a documentary about a penguin colony in Antarctica, only to find herself inexorably drawn to these adorable little creatures. In fact, she contemplates leaving her vast fortune to the team of scientists who work at the base. Just to be sure that this is the best use of her money, she resolves to visit the isolated outpost, even though the scientists strongly urge her not to come to their extremely remote, cramped, and humble rustic abode. But Veronica does not listen.
Thus begins an adventure that takes Veronica from the comforts of her lovely estate in Ayrshire, Scotland to the opposite ends of the earth. The adventure, however, turns out to be less about geography and more about an exploration into the human heart. Not only does Veronica connect with a grandson she did not even know she had, but she also rescues and befriends a tiny, orphaned penguin who works his way into her heart and the hearts of all the scientists at the base. As she reflects on her long life, with its sorrows and disappointments, Veronica discovers new purpose and for the first time feels that her life has meaning and worth. More importantly, she finds her family.
Lately I have been drawn to a new genre of literature: coming of age books for those of us who find ourselves in the second half of life. One of my favourite reads this past summer is a book by British author Clare Pooley, Iona Iverson’s Rule for Commuting. A Novel.
Iona Iverson is a fashionable, highly opinionated but loveable advice columnist who takes the train every day from her home in Hampton Court to her workplace in the heart of London. She is an astute observer of the people who also ride the train to work each day, but she does not actually get to know anyone personally. Why? Because one never talks to strangers! Then one of the passengers, a pompous git called Piers, chokes on a grape and suddenly everyone around him, including Iona, flies into emergency response mode to help him. Through this freak encounter, during which Piers nearly dies, an eclectic group of strangers is suddenly brought together in a most delightful way. Witty, fun, charming, uplifting, this feel-good novel shows what can happen when we take down our guard and open ourselves up to the possibility of caring for others quite different from ourselves. Pooley invites us into the lives of unforgettable characters who are complicated, quirky, and funny.
While Iona wrestles with the issues and prejudices that face many older adults in the workforce, she soon makes friends with people all across the generations. In the process she discovers that strangers can teach you a lot — not only about who they are but also about yourself. You learn, moreover, that you are never too old to start again, especially if you are surrounded by supportive and caring companions.
Returning from a three-month sabbatical study leave this week, I was delighted to find this excellent new course on Spiritual Care and Ageing which can be accessed through Zoom. It is sponsored by CHAT — The Centre for Healthy Aging Transitions in Vancouver, B.C. This very timely and helpful program is designed for those working in accredited seniors centres and residences and for multi-faith spiritual and religious leaders and volunteers. Do check it out!
Visit firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to discover new pathways to meaningful ageing with Spiritual Care Series.