by Barbara Leonard
The book by Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality in the Two Halves of Life inspires a lot of discussion. Father Rohr suggests that most of our western institutions are first half enterprises and this includes the church, writ large. First half institutions tend to be concerned with their own organization, exclusive and focus mainly on first half of life spirituality. This means they focus on the institution, encourage congregants to observe the rules and less on serving the greater community. Is that one reason that so many young people leave the church between 18 and 30 years of age? A recent study of Catholic young people by St. Mary’s University found that these young people don’t believe in God and disagree with several of the churches teaching on social issues. One can only wonder whether these “nones” will return to church as they encounter inevitable life changing events of second half.
First half of life churches may lack formation for second half of life congregants whose lives are often complicated by irreversible events such as divorce, illness, family trauma and death. These folks are in need of pastoral care to carry them through these times of suffering. When pastoral care is present, spiritual growth is possible and those individuals often are desirous of serving others. A recent invitation to the laity in my church to train to serve as pastoral ministers resulted in a group of men and women one could not have predicted to come forward for the training. They are going to be wonderful second half of life pastoral care people to the congregation and beyond. Second half of life folks have much to offer and need to take some leadership to help those who are struggling with spiritual issues and concerns. Sharing one’s life experience with another might be a turning point for the one who is struggling. A recent young person’s suicide brought out several others who had also experienced this devastating trauma; they provided much needed support to the family.
Christianity is the only religion that accepts suffering as part of life. Second half of life folks can be an amazing resource to others in need. One just needs to journey with the person hurting by being present and not trying to fix anything. One doesn’t need any special training to do that.