by Anthony Sy
In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.
While the different changes to Article 4 are all inextricably linked, one change that may seem lesser to the others is age. From the descriptions of the changes produced by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, age constitutionally protects members from being excluded based on a person’s age; particularly the very young and the very old. One may think, why is this necessary? What role does age play in the church? What defines these age groups? I will attempt here to extrapolate my ideas on the inclusion of age in Article 4.
Each church contains a variable age range which helps contribute to the social diversity. Within each United Methodist Church, decisions must be made on a regular basis regarding things like – but not limited to – financial investments of the church, vision and goals, community involvement, and congregational/church events. Without the inclusion of the very young and the very old, much of the immediate events may only be suited for a specific age range. This speaks to not only the awareness of the church and its members but also exhibits a lack of empathy and understanding of these groups of people.
In addition, it does not consider their role in the future of the church. If the very young and the very old are excluded from being members/constituent bodies of the church, then there is a higher chance of disregarding them as part of the future of the church. Though cliché, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” can very well be an issue if age is excluded from the changes in Article 4. Through my own experiences in the Church, I know very well that the dominant ideas in the Church do not come from the children, and not many may come from the very old. This should not discredit the necessity to include them in the Church. In fact, I believe that it should encourage congregations to include these ideas, however big or small. While this does not necessitate that the local church act on these ideas, it does speak to the hearts of the people in the church, saying, “We care about what you think.”
Who Am I?
I will ask you for a moment to think about a time you were young (in your own understanding of ‘young’). Whether it be in school, work, at home, think of a moment in your life where you were left out because of your age. I remember a particular time when I was presenting ideas to a crowd of much older people, and though they listened, they brushed off my idea with a simple, “Yeah, that sounds nice.” Unfortunately, now that I have grown up, I have to admit that I have done this same thing to those who were younger than me. The reason I urge you to think about these moments is because these encounters make us who we are. They inform us of what ideas others think is important, and if what we say is important to them. In social settings, much of these exclusionary methods are common practice and some even thought to be social norms. What about the Church?
Some churches may work around the framework of building upon what the church has/needs. Though this may be true, what we as a church have to think about when discussing these changes to the Article 4 are not, “Who can contribute?”, but rather, “Who does God accept into the church?” All people should feel important; no, all people should know they are important. Much has changed over the history of the Church, but I believe that these changes are not only helping think through what God envisioned the Church to be but, on a deeper level, making us as a people more human. More accepting of others. This is what I charge you to think about when deliberating the addition of ‘age’ to Article 4: Does this change bring the Church together? Does this change exhibit the love and inclusiveness that Jesus Christ showed when he walked the Earth? Does this change open our doors to God’s people?