I drink tea with old ladies

Not so long ago I sat listening to a young and gifted pastor tell his story of ministry. With rungs on the board, books to his name and much to be proud of, he’s a leader with growing influence. A line of youthful pastors-in-training were seated in the front row taking down his every word. I was inspired as they were, but I was also troubled.

When this pastor was asked about his priorities in ministry, he quipped, ‘Well, I certainly don’t sit around drinking cups of tea with little old ladies!’ There was an immediate chuckle across the room. This ‘image of irrelevance’, a well-used cliche in the church, was instantly recognisable to those listening. Its inference? When it comes to ministry that is ‘strategic’ and ‘missional’, there are certain activities that just don’t rate.

On one hand, his point is understandable. There is a valid need for the contemporary pastor to distance him or herself from the equally cliched image of the elderly country vicar sitting with genteel parishioners, teacup in hand and the village church across the field behind them. Nestled securely in the age of Christendom, the vicar’s primary task was maintenance. How different the place of the church today and how demanding the ever-changing nature of our task.

On the other hand, this young pastor’s image of irrelevance is deeply flawed and betrays a view of ministry that needs challenging. The diminishment of his words is extraordinary. The crass dismissal of age and gender to begin with; add the word ‘little’ and the designation is nothing short of insulting. And then, of course, there’s our understanding of what constitutes worth in the ‘investment’ of our time.

I do drink tea with old ladies, and with old men too. Granted, it’s a time consuming business, but I understand it to be as central to my pastoral calling as anything else I do. Oh, and not one of them is little. More often than not, when it comes to character and spirit, they tower above me. Very often these women and men have given their lives to the church. They are the shoulders upon which young pastors like this one stand. While they are certainly not saints to be venerated, they are gifts to be valued and esteemed.

Too often older people in our congregations become invisible to a church and its leaders infatuated with youth. The designation of ‘little’ speaks volumes about how older people in our communities feel and what priority we give to their voice, to their experience and participation. The truth is, when they are diminished, we are all diminished.

So, I’ll take mine with milk and one sugar thanks.

16 Comments

  1. Brilliant, thanks Simon. I’ve often said in classes that it’s a prophetic act to have tea with ‘little’ old ladies & men, challenging society’s stereotypes. While I don’t do it as much as I used to it’s still an important part of my pastoral practice. can we post this to ethos website please?

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  2. This may be my favourite post of all! I will take mine with a spot of milk only but I want to hear all about what you learn from these amazing people.

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  3. Paul in Romans directs us to have a drink with all people no matter who we are, race, creed or age. What I would like to know is does it have to be just restricted to tea?

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  4. I’m a little old lady and I love having a cup of tea with Pastors. Only my two daughters know this, but when I was a little girl, my dream was to one day marry a Lutheran Pastor and live happily ever after! Well, it was a dream……..I hung onto it until ….well, it never happened! Although I did admire, respect to a fault, and virtually hero worship every single Lutheran Pastor whose Congregation I belonged two over the years, and one or two who weren’t Lutheran. Recently I went to a seminar given by a prominent Melbourne Doctor of Divinity attached to a City Church, designed for the elderly, from how to deal with life’s visscissitudes as you get older to family conflict, etc. etc. and as he went on and on, it occurred to me he was touting reading his books and using psychological techniques to master problems and achieve happiness. Not once did he mention prayer. At the appropriate time, (anyway I thought it was at the approprate time), I raised my hand and said to him…..”but what about prayer?? You have not mentioned prayer ” He answered….” It doesn’t work for me”. I was astonished. Needless to say, I have not been back to any more of his somewhat pricey seminars! Anyway, Simon, I’d make a cup of tea for you anytime……might even offer you a home-made biscuit or three.

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  5. Another thought has just entered my mind, Simon,……is it possible this “young Pastor” ,possibly still in his “honeymoon days” of pastoral care, thought of “little old ladies” as ever so sweet in their welcoming of the local Pastor and offering him tea, and lots of sympathy for the huge task he has taken on – to shepherd, teach, spiritually nurture, share their grieving, disappointments, listen to the ever increasing stream of whingers, self appointed, posturing, postulating and promenading church elitists for you to dampen down, etc. etc. etc. In other words he was saying it in the sense of considering these little old ladies as the “sweetness” needed for regeneration to continue on his arduous path. So what I’m saying the only thing perhaps this young Pastor forgot to put in front of …….and drink tea with little old ladies was “sweet”. They are, after all, the foundations of mothering, nurturing,a gluing together of communities agents sharing their pearls of wisdom with the local Pastor, and a young one is ever so welcome, as he is hurting still from a “few beatings” he has received.
    They learn to get tougher as time goes by. Little old ladies know all this, as they have been sitting in those pews for many years, watching, listening, gaining many an insight yet to be learned by that young Pastor.
    Sometimes I wonder whether ministry can be paralelled with the baking of bread……i.e. a little of this, a little of that, a bit warm, wait for the yeast to do its work, punch everything down again……let it all rise again…..punch down the puffs, etc. However, if you get the quantities all wrong, i.e. just concentrating on adding, and adding and adding MORE FLOUR (people) the quality suffers and you end up with ONE ROCK OF A PIECE OF BREAD. Simplistic? Maybe. I’ve been in congregations (country ones) where the bread was always light, delicious and lasted and lasted and the “taste” never diminished, because the Pastor was always replenished as his task was never TOO GREAT TO TAKE ON. But I’m rambling……probably don’t have enough to do to keep my brain fully occupied……..a throwback to being made “irrelevant” no doubt!!!!!! I have plenty of time now to “look back” over my life and my experiences with “Church” and there have been times when I’ve seen things within the Church not only condoned by the ministry, but actually committed by the ministry, that have made me wonder whether we are indeed each and every one of us (Christians that is) a church or rather the Church of Jesus Christ on earth …..so perhaps running to the building, whilst important for fellowship and hearing the word, not as important actually as living the word….and we can all read the Bible. AND ALL OF THIS WITHOUT EVEN HAVING TO OFFER ANYONE A CUP OF TEA??????? AND I’VE GOT ALL THESE CHRISTMAS BISCUITS AS WELL????

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  6. Hi Simon, sitting here in Bali before heading to Melbourne where I hope to have a cup of (tea) coffee with my brother before long.
    What a great post. I was chatting with a woman from the village next to our hotel the other night. She was explaining that most nights the eldest member of the extended family sleeps with the youngest member of that family. The reason? So that family wisdom can be passed from the old to young as they lay together before sleep. Bring on the cups of tea, I say.
    Mark

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  7. “Where there is tea, there is hope.” Wonderful post, thanks Simon. I find comments that dismiss older women SO offensive, and I’m grateful for pastors like you who are offended also. One day, hopefully, I’ll be an old woman. And if some slick young schmuck of a pastor calls me a ‘little old lady’, by golly he’ll have something coming! I assume that at this point in history, I’ll not have to resort to slipping things in his tea to teach him a lesson.

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    1. Andreana Reale, you know, it is my experience (age 71) that to play the “I’m just a little old lady card” gets you places you never dreamed of achieving any other way, nine times out of ten…especially if you add the sweetness expected of little old ladies!! Works on so many levels…never fear growing old…. it has so many advantages. Just a thought for you

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  8. Loved your post Simon! In my experience, when the tea was served was when the stories began. Consequently, my faith was fed, and my world expanded!

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