I just spent four days last week at a denominational meeting. We celebrated the 100th anniversary of our denomination by returning to Washington, DC where our denomination was started in 1907. There have been Baptists in this country since Roger Williams established the First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island in 1638. The first association of Baptists in the USA was composed of five churches - three from New Jersey and two from Pennsylvania in 1707 (NJ - Middletown Baptist Church, Piscataway Baptist Church and Cohansey Baptist Church; PA - Pennepack Baptist Church, Welsh Tract Baptist Church). The Triennial Convention of the USA Baptists started in 1817. The centennial celebration that I attended was of a group of Baptists called the Northern Baptist Convention (in contrast with the Southern Baptist Convention) which today goes by the name American Baptist Churches of USA (ABC-USA)
During this centennial we looked at our history, and there have been a couple of people in the program who, while they are not centenarians, they are nonagenarians and octogenarians. Some of them are holding well, while some are barely holding. However, something became jolting during the convention. In almost every meeting that I attended, there was a call for those under the age of 35 to stand and be recognized and affirmed. When it was done for the first time I thought that it was something that should be done. The young need to be welcomed and reaffirmed. Nevertheless, as the days went by and as one person wanted to outdo the other by proclaiming that this century belongs to these who are under 35, I started to think, "What about those who are above 35?" Those who are 45 and 55, and 65 and 85? Does it mean that their day of contributing positively has come and gone? Is there a possibility that someone who is 65 will be more contributive to the denomination for the next 10 or 15 years than someone who is now 20?
I started to think of all the inclusive verses in the Bible. I started to think of the news that the angels brought from heaven to all the people - Do not be afraid, I bring you news of great joy that will be to all the people (Luke 2:10). I started to think of the news that we received when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost over the young and the old - "In the last days, God says, I will pour my Spirit on all the people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams." (Acts 2:17)
I started to think of all the holidays that we have in the church calendar that are exclusive. I have to say that I love to preach on Mother's Day and Father's Day, yet I have to admit that I was always aware that on those days I divided the congregation - there have been people in the congregation who have been uplifted, but there have also been people in the congregation that left saddened because they were not mothers and they were not fathers.
I thought that our denomination could have done better by emphasizing the continuity of the people of God versus criticizing the shortcomings of the past and entrusting themselves to the untried future. I happen to have four kids under the age of 20, but I do not think that I should abandon my responsibility as a parent and ask them to lead from now on.
It is a good possibility that because I am 57 (22 years above the generation that was praised,) I felt less appreciated. It could be that my ego has gotten in the way. It could be that my professional historical handicap got in the way - I appreciate the past more than the future, because I can understand it better. Or maybe it has made me more sensitive to some of the divisions that I make when I preach. For indeed it has been a good convention and I was glad that I went.