In Defence of Little Old Ladies

Uncertainties about the value of pastoral visitation are sometimes expressed by busy ministers in the well-worn declaration, “I do not have the time to have cups of tea with little old ladies.” Now what’s wrong with cups of tea and, more particularly, with little old ladies who apparently do not need active pastoral interest?

The blessing of the older generation

In many of our churches we are doing a terrible mischief to our senior citizens without so much as realising it. Basically, our memory fails us. What do we forget? Simply the truth that the little old ladies (along with their husbands who have often gone on to the glory ahead of them) were, in their heyday, the people who kept the church alive through thick and thin.

  • In so many of our churches, it was the little old ladies who helped launch the work in the first place. They made the sandwiches for the Sunday School picnic before everybody trooped off in furniture vans to places which have now been swallowed by housing estates.
  • They ran Christian Endeavour (now long gone), packed parcels for missionaries in far off lands, played the piano or the pedal organ, sang songs from Alexanders in the choir, put flowers in the church for every service and prayed fervently for the seemingly impossible.
  • They saved their pennies from the house keeping to help pay off the church debt on the multi purpose hall. It may have looked like a barn but it was sacred ground then and just about everyone had helped to build it.
  • It was their unswerving commitment to Christ that led them to polish up the kids and haul them along to Sunday School with the fond hope that the faith would rub off sooner or later.
  • They were usually the ones who ensured that the family had a reading or a prayer together each day. Many lonely evenings would be spent at home as husbands pontificated at lengthy leaders’ meetings.
  • These were the days when it was unthinkable to have women in leadership of the church, of course. Remarkably, they survived a long line of pastors each of whom had their own idea about the church and the way it should function.

Some of these saints are still with us

In short they were the real saints. Subtract their enormous contribution to the life of the church more than half a century ago and there simply would not be as many churches today. And the good news is that many of these heroines of the local church are still with us in our churches today. They may not be as sprightly; we may not see them as often; their hearing and eyesight may be a trifle marginal but they are still the same faithful people as they always were.

It’s true that their minds may drift back to the good old days but you can hardly blame them for that. There were not as many grey issues as there are today. A spade was a spade. You knew when the gospel was being preached. Life lacked much of the finesse and the affluence which we take for granted these days. People walked to church so parking was never a problem. Sunday was a time not only for worship but for catching up with the wider family. TV and smart phones had not yet had the chance to ruin the art of conversation. It was the land of newsreels, Jack Davey, Smokey Dawson and the Argonauts (do you remember any of these?)

They deserve our attention, not our neglect

  • So why is it that we are now too busy to have cups of tea with these precious people who lived out the faith with considerable sacrifice and determination, who have given to us a rich heritage priceless beyond pearls?
  • Why is it that we too easily see them as old fuddy duddies who are no longer with it?
  • Why do we regard them as being out of touch simply because they do not always fall all over us with admiration for our latest idea?
  • Why do we in many churches so ruthlessly deny them the privilege of singing even one great hymn of the faith during a service?
  • What hunger are we forcing upon them by ignoring those songs which have sustained them for a lifetime of devotion?
  • Why do we lust after bigger and better when around us are the devoted pray-ers who have known the secret of effective church life all along?

The fact is that many of our little old ladies (and their partners) are just as inspiring now as they were years ago. The wisdom accumulated over the decades is a huge resource which we ignore with extraordinary ease. If we really knew the score, we would be beating a path to their door to seek their prayers and their advice. For they remain the quiet, unsung praying backbone of the church as they have always been. Our busy-ness prevents us from learning from the living history on our doorsteps. Make no mistake, we are the poorer for it.

It’s time to celebrate these special people

It is time for us to celebrate all that God has done through His little old ladies. Our congregations should be finding ways of expressing thanks more frequently and with great sincerity.

Rather than seeing them as appendages whose use by date has come and gone, we would do well to find new ways of honouring their witness and being enriched by their faith. Far too often we sing their praises at Thanksgiving Services when they have left us.

We would have been much wiser and more generous to have thanked the Lord for them when they could have heard it all for themselves.  And we would be doing them (and us) a great service by having knocked on their door and enjoyed that occasional cup of tea.

Rev John Simpson