My sister’s husband recently graduated from university. Between working full-time and being a wonderful father to my two little nieces, it was a busy and arduous road to complete his education. We’re very proud of his perseverance. Among all of the young people, I felt rather middle-aged at his convocation. I got married one week after my own university graduation, quite convinced of my maturity, and yet these kids looked like they belonged in junior high to me. Babies! in caps and gowns! setting off on adventures, no doubt.

In a sea of shiny young people, I suddenly found tears in my eyes for the older ones among them. I don’t mean to take anything away from the young ones, not at all. I remember those days with tenderness. But they wore their youth and bright future so carelessly, and I found myself applauding until my palms tingled for the men and women like my brother-in-law who had to battle through school with so many other demands on their attention, for the women older than my mother who have finally finished their degree long after their nests emptied, the middle-aged men with a circle of whiskers on their shining bald heads. I whooped when someone with grey hair under their black cap and tassel climbed the stairs for their diploma, I high-fived several grandmothers on their way up the aisle.

Dont Give Up

image source

A few months ago, I requested stories or anecdotes about how it feels to be a woman in the church. I was more than a little overwhelmed by the responses, both the sheer number and the content, but I did my best to respond to each one. Women filled my inbox with stories – beautiful and horrible, hurtful and empowering – about their experiences within the institutions of Christianity. After all my research, I thought I knew what to expect. And sure enough, there were the stories about women feeling marginalized because they are not married or do not/ cannot have children; stories about women who had men turn their backs when they stood up to preach their first sermon; stories about women who stayed in abusive marriages because of their church teachings; a lot of affirming women who found their voice  and healing within church.

But one theme emerged that I hadn’t looked for, over and over: Women, in the middle of their lives, who felt invisible and ignored by the church, the same way they feel invisible or ignored in our culture.

These are women of my mother’s generation perhaps, maybe ten or even twenty years on either side. And I heard their hurt and sorrow and stoicism.

I used to scan conference platforms and church staff listings, music festivals and seminary rosters for women and visible minorities, now I find I’m scanning for older women, as well. And you know what? They were right. They aren’t there.

One woman told me about how she had led worship at her church for years. But when a new young pastor was hired, he wanted a cooler band to get more young people, and the first thing to go were the older women. “No one wanted to see old women on stage,” she wrote candidly without bitterness, and so she was replaced with young women in their late teens and early twenties. She misses leading worship. Another woman told me about the sting of being passed over continually. She had very high levels of education, a seminary degree, a long history of teaching with many beloved students, but every teacher at her church’s education program was a young, charismatic man with half her education, let alone experience, despite their position of welcoming women in ministry. In practice, it wasn’t actually happening. She believed now that it was because she did not fit the expected look or personality or gender of their education program. Another woman shared about how she has welcomed and celebrated the shift in the churches of her context towards women in leadership and ministry. Yet, she has noticed that they are all young and beautiful women with identical outgoing and big-smiling personalities. The glass ceiling remains for her because she doesn’t fit the standard or “target audience” so she cheers on these young women, the age of her grand-children, with a selflessness that amazed me.

Women told me about how hard it is to be middle-aged or to be considered unbeautiful in a church culture which values youth and energy and talent. In a sea of hipsters and motivated young people with self-promotion apparently engrained into their DNA, they feel invisible and over-looked, slow and ignored.

Ever since I read their emails, I’ve been haunted by their stories. I asked older women in my life and found the same was true. Once a woman reaches a certain age or if a woman is not considered beautiful or outgoing or charming, she often disappears in the eyes of her community. She still has a rich and meaningful life, don’t get me wrong, but they all said, sadly, that yes, they are well-educated or experienced or wise, and yet, they are never asked, they are never invited, they are rarely noticed. Many of them told me that they were “back-stage” while the beautiful and young were celebrated from the front, so they worked and they served in beautiful obscurity and they found that God was faithful there, too.

It’s bothered me because, of course, I believe that God looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. I long for our communities to be a tangible representation, a sign along the road, of what it looks like when men and women of all ages, nations, experiences, intellectual abilities, socio-economic backgrounds all gather together to glorify God.

It’s an idealist view, a dreamer’s dream, but if there is one place where women of a certain age or women who do not fit the cultural expectations of “beauty” should feel valued and affirmed, celebrated and acknowledged, honoured and even just seen, oh, my goodness, let it be within the Body of Christ!

So I’m thinking of you a lot now, ladies. I’m thinking of the women twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years older than me.

I’m thinking of you and I’m wanting, somehow, to repent for how we’ve shunted you to the side, bought into our culture’s insane standards of beauty and aging, to ask for your forgiveness. I’m thinking of you when I sit in church and I’m looking for you when I’m preaching from the stage now, and I’m thinking of you watching the rest of us run around striving, and I’m not sure how to fix it. But I’m sorry. And I’m watching for you now, I won’t make this mistake again, and I want to be a better listener, and I want to be a notice-er. You aren’t invisible to me, not at all. I want to give honour where honour is due. When I talk about not waiting for permission anymore, about being loved and free, about not waiting for a seat at The Table, I’m thinking about you.

I am thinking in particular of the tremendous beauty and strength of this generation of women. I’m thinking of how much I have to learn, of how much passion and laughter, anger and goodness, stories and sermons, resources and energy they carry within them. Can you imagine, friends? Can you imagine what would happen if we made a little room for their voices and experiences in our communities?

Related: Top 50 Lady-Bloggers Over 50 and my Pinterest board on Wise Women

 

 

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  • Mandy

    Amazing message and very important to remember in the Church as well as in the rest of our interactions in life.

  • Jo Saxton

    I love your thoughts here Sarah. If we were to overlook the women of the Bible of the age group you describe – we’d be missing out on Deborah, Miriam, Huldah, Elizabeth, most likely Priscilla, Lydia and Phoebe, and probably many of the women of the New Testament who had churches in their homes. And many many more… Where would we be without their voices and their experiences? Great words x

  • hopejem

    Oh Sarah, Thank you! I was asking myself the other night, “When did I become to old to serve? When did I pass the age where it was just right?” It feels as if I passed from one to the other without having the chance to stop in between.
    A few months ago I applied to be a “mom blogger” for our local paper. I was passed over. When they started asking for “likes” on their Facebook page I mentioned that the oldest blogger they had was 33 and perhaps it would widen the attraction if they widen the age span. I received an invitation to join within an hour and have had nothing but positive responses.
    We as a church must be open to reevaluating our acceptance of all women. It will not only enrich our communities but it will save us time in wondering why things aren’t grown. Bring on the nurturers, the life givers and the story tellers!
    I cried and applauded my wise young friend. 🙂

  • Lorilyn Wiering

    As a woman entering this age and feeling the invisibility, I’m glad at your noticing. And I’ll be even more glad for your (and your generation’s) upcoming invitations to more conversation. We are watching you and inspired by you and longing to support you. And also longing to participate, though we are not hipsters.

  • Kirsty

    This scares me – I think it’s important to have older women to be role models. It also annoys me – older men don’t necessarily suffer the same fate. And then it fills me with awe – the grace of the women whose stories you mention.

  • Absolutely agree with this post. We can get so caught up in our hipster-ness we forget the amazing gift of those older than us, and how much they have to contribute. It’s so easy to patronise, talk down to them or write them off, and I’m ashamed to say I have done it on occasion. But those older than us have amazing gifts to give, and the unique gift of experience too. Thanks for sharing this, really important post – on a topic which needs more written on it.

  • Jada

    Standing on my chair clapping! YES! YES! YES!

  • ChristieEsau

    Oh, Sarah. Preach sister.

    As one mostly in the throes of motivated young adulthood, I certainly need to repent of my privilege. My big dreams are celebrated, my crazy ideas not actually that crazy after all. All because I am young, and this is–of course–how we roll.

    I have always actually longed to be older, wiser, further along in life… but I’ve noticed little inklings of the challenges to come, even what with my being a mere twenty-seven-year-old.

    So GOD BLESS you for your open spirit, and your welcoming words.

  • mizmelly

    *applauds wildly* Could this be why there’s a screenplay in my heart about an older woman trying to find her voice???

  • Emily_Maynard

    I was thinking about women like this on my way into work this morning, listening to Crossroads by W. Paul Young. I was thinking of Grandmother.

    I was thinking of the ways that women fall out of view when they meet a certain age limit, or the how few that remain in public are significantly prized for physical beauty “despite their age.” I was thinking of the way my hands are looking more like my Mama’s hands, while hers are looking more like my Grandma’s. I was thinking of all the prayers from these hands and the way they gain power and Spirit, even as they lose elasticity and get spots and the veins pop up. I was thinking of the powerful older women who are not young and chaotic and getting attention like I am, and how I want to see and hear them more. Because I want to be like them, and they matter. I was thinking of them.

    And here you write, thinking of them.

  • This broke my heart. I’m glad you are collecting these stories, Sarah, because while I applaud their humble love, it’s so easy for this to slip under the rug. I’m going to be on the lookout. We need these women.

    And you know what? The number one need identified by young people in our church recently was MENTORS. The millennials still in the Church are desperate for those who’ve gone before and survived with wisdom and grace.

    • I totally agree Kelly. It often feels cyclical, young women wanting older women to mentor & guide through these younger years. Meanwhile, the older women aren’t there. I know when I’ve asked the older generation, response is they don’t think they have anything to offer. Could it be years of what Sarah is sharing that older ladies are now believing?

      Thank you Sarah for being discerning to give voice to this. My friend Kristin Lemus (fellow blogger) has this exact need on her heart–to make room for women forgotten by age.

  • Dawn Wright

    So, so true. My husband and I are looking for a church home and number one on our criteria is “old people”. We are tired of being the oldest people in the sea of hipsters. We need wisdom and perspective that only these people can give. When I was in my 20s I ran a ministry for gals my age and one program I set up was to spend all summer scheduling weekly dessert nights with older women in our congregation. One older woman a week would come have dessert with our group. They could talk about whatever they wanted – no agenda. What an AMAZING experience. These broads had STORIES! I want to do that again. I need those stories. And shoot, now I’m old enough to start telling some! Oy!

  • michelle

    Thank you for writing this. I don’t thing I’ve ever thought it all the way through before but as I was reading your observations I couldn’t help but think of how I’ve see this play out over and over in my own church experiences. Thank you for a great reminder and I will try to be more aware as I move through my world to see and honor these women and push a little more for more room for everyone.

  • Sarah – This 55+ pastoral counselor and blogger says thank you. Finding a welcome mat at either table hasn’t been easy, but i’m learning to look more for HIS approval rather than everyone else’s …

  • Thank you for this. I just graduated from seminary last weekend at the age of 53, and I’m heading to my first ministerial appointment at the end of June–I’m a bit nervous, being a part of a denomination that is constantly hammering on how much they need younger clergy. But where God guides, God provides.

  • These are the women we need as our mentors. Doesn’t Timothy talk about that? While “today” may not look like when they were our age they have still “been there and done that” and we would be oh so wise to listen to them.
    There seems to be so little mentoring going on in churches today and I think we could do better, especially for women. I just don’t know where to start…
    (I for one, would love a mentor, but ever since college I have had a hard time finding one and connecting)

  • Shems

    At my friend’s church (a big high profile church) the vicar actually said (out loud) that he didn’t want a particular woman on the welcome team at the front door of the church because she was too old and would give the wrong impression (you know, get the young hipsters out there) in a ‘shhh, don’t tell anyone I said this but . . .’ kind of way. Unbelievable.

  • Kathie Chiu

    Thank you for noticing me 🙂

  • Can I just say – where would the church be without its middle aged ladies? We need to take a hard look at those who are the volunteers in the kitchen, the ones who quietly serve individuals behind the scenes, the ones in the nursery, the ones “in beautiful obscurity”… I look and it is the middle and older aged ladies. Almost every time. They are the rock of service in the church and beyond. As a fairly young mother – I have to admit, I don’t have time, or babysitters (or money to pay babysitters!) to do it to the extent these ladies do right now.
    I notice, I honor, and I love these women.

  • I’m so thankful you wrote this. I’m 34 and heading to my first senior pastorate soon, my wife keeps reminding that people of all ages want to serve, and this post echos her encouragement. As I step out into this crazy endeavor, I will strive to be a person who notices as well. I will keep this in the back of my mind and hopefully the women of this or any age who are looking to serve will find a place to do so.

  • Sylvia

    Oh my goodness, Sarah! Thank you! I’m one of these women of whom you speak. I’m a 54 yr old mother who just recently finished my degree! I also feel that both I and my disabled daughter are invisible and forgotten by my church, but have always assumed it was because of our sporadic attendance. You know…Out of sight-Out of mind, yet the fact that my husband and other children attend church religiously should serve as reminders that we still exist!

  • As a mom, I used to attend MOPS meetings. I soon gave those up because I could not stand being around new moms any longer. I joined a moms group full of women OLDER than me. Sure, not 15 years later there are plenty YOUNGER than me, but I can still enjoy the women who’ve been there and done that.

    http://forthisisthetime.com/

    • Erin

      I finished MOPS, my last year while youngest was in Kindergarten, and just felt like there was no place for me there anymore. The young moms didn’t come to get advice from the other moms – they came to commiserate with the other moms experiencing what they were experiencing. They were there for encouragement and a shoulder to cry on, which is great, but I wasn’t in that mode anymore, and just didn’t feel like a part of things anymore. I know people talk a lot about the need for mentors, but the mentors we had really did nothing more than say, “Hang in there, you’ll get through it and laugh about it later”, and etc. and etc. is that all a mentor is?

      • Bonnie

        I experience the same problem in reverse: I’m 25 and married, but I don’t have any kids. All the social/devotional events for women my age at church seem to be designed for women with children and without full-time jobs — and I can’t go to the women’s small group because it’s Tuesday at 10 a.m. and I have to, you know, be at work. Events/ministries for both spouses tend to have better timing, but I find myself alone among a sea of young mothers who apparently want to talk, Facebook, etc. primarily about the children I don’t plan to have any time soon.

        I sound pretty whiny right now, I know, but sometimes it seems like “women” is a subset of “mothers” at church once we’re past college age.

  • Peggy Brown

    Lovely, Sarah! I went back for my sophomore year 17 years after my freshman year in college … and graduated at almost 39 the same morning my first baby was born. After having my third, and last, son at almost 45, I finally realized my dream of pastoral ministry. Five awesome years flowed in tandem with a series of terrible accidents, and somewhere I got old. But God is renewing my heart is amazing ways and I am getting younger again as I approach 57! Blessings on you and your family and ministry of encouragement….

  • Miles O’Neal

    This just makes me even more thankful (if that’s possible) for the congregation we are a part of. There are plenty of women who are not young movie star types who are staples of ministry– prophetic women, prayer warriors, dancers, elders, teachers, and preachers. Some of the changes are recent, but the hearts were clearly right and the impetus there before the official changes. There’s further to go, as there always is, but it looks healthy to me.
    Of course, that’s easy for me to say. I’m going to ask around as a sanity check.
    US pop culture already marginalizes a lot of people, including anyone not young or hot. There are pockets of white hot resistance, of course, but too few. The Church should always be that.

  • Anna M.

    I have heard this from older family members on several occasions. They feel ignored, passed over, and uninvited within their churches. Young people do say they want mentors, but it seems like there is some kind of detachment then with what we say we want and what is really happening. I think young people don’t know how to make that next step of initiating these relationships and reaching out to older women, and older women aren’t sure they are wanted in the first place. It’s like we are just waiting for the other to take the initiate.

  • Amy E Patton

    I am not a senior, not by any stretch of the imagination. I am only 41. But I fit into a very odd category because I am getting older and my children are 21, 20 and 16. The women I share the most in common with are getting into the older category. Those my age tend to have preschool and elementary age children. The dichotomy I see between these two groups is amazing. I walk a precious road because of my age and station in life. The younger ones accept me as their own, and because of my experience they seek me for wisdom. Sometimes I worry that the older women, who have been there done that and have so much to share, are both isolated and isolating. They aren’t accepted into the younger groups and yet they don’t reach out as eagerly to them either. I see this issue even in the blog world. There are not enough, in my opinion, older moms, women who are married, women who are single, blogging to show the way to a younger generation. We have become silent. Maybe in part because we fear no one wants to hear what we have to say. It is a lonely place to be. No man’s- or even woman’s land. I want to share my life. I want to make things easier for those coming up behind me. I hope they will listen. I hope I will remember to share. Amy (amyepatton@comcast.net)

  • michaboyett

    Thanks for this Sarah. It is true and disturbing and I’m going to need to spend some time really looking in my heart and looking for these women who I’m sure are worshiping beside me every Sunday. Grateful to you.

  • We are never to old to serve God/His people or to be appreciated by others. I love a Church that has a real mix of old and young.

    I have greatly appreciated those voices of women who were overlooked by all. They have been an inspiration to me over the years. We must not side-line these wonderful people just because of a few wrinkles; after all we will have them one day. A Church I used to go to made it clear that only the young were to lead and the older women stopped leading worship, but these people still have plenty they can encourage us in.

  • Lucie

    Have to agree in general, though I have not personally experienced this in the church, since I have not attended for some time. This did remind me, however, of a time around six years ago, when I was job searching at about age 46, and my mother said to me, “If they [the interviewers] have a choice between you and someone who’s young and perky and…” – she was about to say “slim,” but stopped herself just in time – “who do you think they’re going to choose?” So not only did I have to worry about my plumpness being a strike against me (for the record, I am not morbidly obese, but I could still lose about 50 pounds), but my age as well…and attendant lack of “perkiness”! It’s one reason I’m turning my eye more and more towards freelance writing as a new career – at least there, I thought, I shouldn’t face discrimination based on my looks or, I hope, my age.

  • Sarah!
    It is rare—my God is it rare– for a blog post to resonate to the point of tears for me.

    I broke up with the last church of my life just over a year ago. Like many “divorces,” it was complicated and layered with all kinds of mixture of good, bad and hurtful. For a wordy woman, I have had a helluva time trying to lasso in my experiences there and determine just what was it that made me feel marginalized in a faith community famous for loving the marginalized? I knew the answer in part was ageism. Myself and a handful of other folks were over the age of 45, all of whom have since exited just like I did, consulted one another and laughed it off. “We are just not cool enough to be a part of our church.”

    Today you have put into words what I have not been able to do, and for this I am grateful (insert bear hug here). You have given my buried hurt a voice and in doing so, she has now surfaced from her hiding place. I suspected there was another wound lurking beneath despite my best efforts to be healed, let go, and move on.

    A couple of weeks ago I met up with a group of women who call ourselves the Patinas. At 49, I am among the youngest. We all have years of ministry experience and leadership, yet at this stage of life, not a single one of us is anchored in a local church ( for various reasons). We all maintain ties to the Christian world, yet I think it would hard pressed for any of us to tell you of a church where our sage wisdom is welcomed or celebrated. The world belongs to the young and apparently so does the church.

    I intend to forward this post to each of them.

    Love your voice. Thanks for hearing mine!

  • I’m so feeling this it isn’t funny. I’m a mom of a 4yo, but too old to fit w/ the young moms, and have nothing in common with those of my age (mid-40s), and get invited to nothing of either. Most things aren’t relevant as preached, they’re inappropriate for me to do w/ a small child in the household, or not even on my radar for another decade. The stuff that makes sense emotionally is for the much younger set (late-20s/early-mid-30s) and I’ve been pointed out as not belonging there. Result: I don’t go where I’m not welcome or wanted, so I don’t go.

    • Erin

      I totally feel you! I’m 45 with a 7 and 9 year old. Everyone my age has teenagers. Everyone with kids my kids age is 10 to 15 years younger. No matter what I do, I can’t seem to “fit”. I keep trying, though, and I urge you to keep trying too. Isolation will only make you feel worse. I’ve been going to a Bible study with women ranging from 20 year old college students to 50 year olds with teenagers, and though it is sometimes awkward, we have become a surprisingly cohesive group that really enjoy sharing with and encouraging each other. Don’t give up!

      • I’m in the awkward place where my husband still has a commitment to the church we’ve been a part of for the last near-19yrs. I was a part of a women’s Bible study there a couple years ago, but even there, I felt secluded/excluded in so many ways, and the weeks I worked Sunday, I had to miss it because of logistics w/ getting home and then getting out after being at work for over 8 hours. When work wasn’t an issue, I felt awkward for having already missed time (missing 1 every 2, then it became missing 3 of 4 because the schedule changed), and the continuity of the subject matter wasn’t there for me.
        When my husband’s commitment is done we are going to be re-evaluating things. He is saddened that I do NOT want to attend. But what makes him even more sad is that even when I do go, it pushes me further from God, instead of drawing me closer. He has mentioned that I almost seem to be emptied instead of filled up: as if everything is happening around me and has no real point of connection.
        I’m hoping that the change will help. We have a few options, but getting somewhere that there’s a mix of ages, instead of a segmented cluster of ranges that don’t overlap, is the goal.

        • Anna Samson

          The Bible says that we should be homemakers… I don’t know your financial situation or exact circumstances, and maybe you’re the exception to the rule? I realize we’re immersed in a daily onslaught of feminist programming on how women need to attain more value than that associated with staying at home and being a housewife, but you realize that you’re not doing things according to Biblical prescription when you’re working outside the home all day, right? Why do you expect your life to be ideal when you’ve opted not to follow the path laid out? Why does any woman in here, who is preaching in the church contrary to Paul’s God-inspired instruction, or working away from home, or anything else, expect thing to be great?? Did you establish a career before settling down to have kids? There are ramifications to waiting. This is not a personal judgement or slight, but a logical question. If you opted not to have kids until later and are now too busy to plug in, all of these are self-induced problems, are they not? Did you prioritize being a mother when you were young? What were you focused on? Too many people are delusional today…claiming to value God’s Word and wisdom but ignoring them both, and then wondering why things are always working against them…

  • As a younger woman, I’ve been wondering where all the older women are? Where are those who can speak into my life with wisdom, grace and experience? I would love to have them be present, but I don’t know where to find them. If you are an older woman, please know that us younger wome would love to have you walk alongside us. We need it!

    • YES! This is what I was going to say. I’ve sought out mentors at church time and again and it just hasn’t happened.

    • DaisyFlower

      I am only in my early 40s, but women around mid 30s and older who have never married and never have kids are not welcome at most churches, so we stop going. Most churches only care about married couples who have kids, so if you are past 30 and have never married, you are not welcome. Most sermons are about parenting, marriage, as are most church social functions. It is extremely uncomfortable going into a new church alone, with no man on your arm, and first question out of most people’s mouths is “how many kids you want” etc. Very awkward.

      • DaisyFlower

        I meant, “how many kids do you have” not “want”

  • pbogal

    There was a time, before books and experts and magazines and blogs, when younger women needed older women to guide them. They asked their mothers and grandmothers about babies, about husbands, about the work of living. Everything that was known was handed down from older to younger. Today, young women want to do it all differently from their moms. And even from older women in their church. We have plenty of guidance through media, what do we need older women for? We have a great series on dvd, why do we need a woman from our church to speak? So and so is a parenting expert, and he says . . . She doesn’t homeschool. She works and can’t make it to our morning Bible study. THIS. This is what we who are gray haired (or quickly heading there) are up against. This is why we disappear. This, and as we grow older, we see our own failures even more clearly and wonder, why would anyone listen to me? I personally stepped away from leading at church to deal with a child who was breaking my heart. What a humbling experience! And life just gets more humbling. Young women may SAY they don’t need someone who has it all together, but the woman going through a rough marriage or dealing with a rebellious teen is not who they really seek. I know I didn’t as a young mom. And these days, that eliminates almost every married woman over 40 in a church. Also a lot of women in my church, much older than me, are working long hours — they are exhausted when it comes to activities, desirous of spending time with their own kids and grandkids, but are so happy to pray with me at church, or chat through facebook. Their devotion to their families has been a huge example to me, without much conversation needed — and I try to communicate that. The more young women value and seek out older women and the life wisdom — true life in the flesh wisdom that cannot be replaced by books and dvds — they have to offer, the more you will see older women step forward to lead. I am convinced that older women have to be sought out. I will be parenting teens long into my 50’s, and having teens is every bit as busy as having little ones — a different kind of busy, my mom would say. So, come find me. Go find the working grandma. Go find the woman who loves her husband so much, she’d rather be with him on her night off than go to a girl’s night out. Go find the mom of grown kids who has learned to pray through a debilitating sense of failure and loves her wayward child so much she would set aside her church ministry to make him her priority. We are here. We may not have eloquent words, or loads of time, but watch for a while & you will learn to love your husband and your children and to be a worker at home, just like Titus 2 says.

  • Laurel Griffith

    I am a 55 year old woman who recently began blogging. For many years, I published a Christian magazine. Due to relocation and not to a decline in readership or advertising, I made the difficult decision to cease publication. I founded the magazine outside of any denomination or specific congregation because it was the only way I could speak to both men and women about the things in life that mattered most to me.

    Now I find myself at the beginning of a new thing. It’s funny but during my years of work, it never once occurred to me I might be too old to continue. Today I work to catch-up in this world of social media. Even as I write and pray and study and try to figure out how to be heard again, I realize age has become an obstacle.

    My confidence is in God. He has a way of opening doors for His servants to speak, no matter who stands in the way and no matter why they happen to be there.

    Thank-you for your insightful post and thank-you for caring.

  • Paige

    Wow, this has been on my mind lately b/c I started taking an antidepressant (that I very much need), and within four months, I have gained about 20 pounds. I’m mid-40’s, and before the weight gain, I felt like a “seen” person–at the store, at my kids’ school, out living my life–maybe because I looked much younger than my age. Since the weight gain, I have slipped into that place of being invisible, and the only thing that changed is that I look more my age than I did before.

    It feels strange, and I’ve been making an effort to notice other people around me who may be in the same place and just acknowledge their presence, since that acknowledgment of my being is the thing I most miss.

    I can tell you that one place I am not invisible is my church. For all its other flaws, my little place in the kingdom (mainline protestant, leaning slightly evangelical) mostly sees middle-aged women as the people who keep things going. (Which can be another way of not seeing them as individuals, which is a whole ‘other story.)

    Well done–and keep looking!

  • Diana Trautwein

    Thank you, Sarah. This is a good, good word that needs saying, hearing and acting upon. I may be an exception to this story-list in some ways — I have just stepped down from 3 months as fill-in associate pastor while the senior was on sabbatical, two years after my retirement from the same church. And the very fact that I was older and more familiar with some in the congregation than the current associate played a role in that invitation. For that, and many things, I am deeply grateful. But I think maybe our congregation is a bit of an anomaly: we are small (250-300), intentionally inter-generational and enjoy rich worship that is – again, intentionally – ‘lightly’ liturgical with rich contemporary resources. We are far from perfect, but older people, both men and women, are celebrated and valued. It can happen. I love that you have written so eloquently about this topic because I think it is hugely important! So I’ll end where I began – thank you!!

  • Sandy

    Thank you, Sarah, for noticing. I am a woman of 62 yrs and often describe myself, to myself, in relation to my place in my church of 35 years as “irrelevant and in the way”. When my pity party is over I get up and do what needs to be done.

  • Sarah, Again your words reach into my heart. To know you are “seen” is the best of feelings. I feel seen in your writing. Just as I was wondering how I will enter these next years the ones where others will see me as “old”, you have given me courage to continue to believe I have something to offer and create every day of my life. Blessings to you…

  • Suzanne Burden

    Thank you for going there and calling us to do better. May your voice cascade far and wide so that others will join the chorus, too.

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  • JoniG.

    The hands typing these words have wrinkles and a few dark spots. I seldom notice them because they are busy hands. At 58 years of age I am one of the invisible women in the church.
    I began a parenting class for my church when my youngest was 3 years old, have worked to encourage and strengthen women of all ages all the way through until the last 5 years when my husband became seriously ill.
    It just seems odd now I am able to attend church regularly again, the only place I’m needed and accepted is in the pew. Thank you for noticing and putting this strange life phase into words.

  • Renee

    There are many other places to serve other than the worship team. Like mentorship or helping [young] mothers out, by offering to cook meals,clean or help with child care. Not glamorous, I know, but this is an example of one of the areas where older, wiser woman are both needed and appreciated!

  • Map Forward

    Reading a number of these comments was as disappointing as reading what Sarah discovered about middle aged and older women in church. There is a lot of grouping and stereotyping that I find puzzling. I wonder when some of these comment-ers last had a meaningful conversation with another woman over 40? If they did, they would know that many of us have careers and/or well-developed interests in a variety of areas. Many of us have houses full of school age kids or teenagers or spend time on our relationships with young adult children. We don’t all serve in the kitchen or nursery, and many of us don’t have any interest in serving in that way. We are also not automatically qualified to be mentors in every situation. No person is. When I read in these comments about the perceptions some of these younger adults have of another person/group of people just based on the year they were born, I can see another reason why middle aged and older women are dropping out of church.

  • Map Forward

    On a different topic: Another interesting aspect of this “age-ism” among Christian women is that technology created a generational divide. Most women bloggers are younger than 40. I will be interested to see if they keep their audiences once they are no longer “the hipsters” and lose the young mother online community. I hope so, because this would help make middle age and older women in the Christian community much more visible.

  • Liz

    I have learned so much from, and been encouraged by, your writing and so many others in this group of bloggers. This post is so perfect, and yet…. a ‘movement’ (IF-Gathering) is launched a month later and despite these words “And I’m watching for you now, I won’t make this mistake again, and I
    want to be a better listener, and I want to be a notice-er. You aren’t
    invisible to me, not at all. I want to give honour where honour is due.
    When I talk about not waiting for permission anymore, about being loved
    and free, about not waiting for a seat at The Table, I’m thinking about you..” it was publicly geared toward and explicitly stated to be by for and about “women in their 20s and 30s” with the cast of leaders and mentors all big smiling women fitting the cultural norm of beauty in practically identical head shots… You all have worked hard to sincerely and humbly correct this misstep, but please pay attention to the fact, that despite your best intentions, it happened, and a lot of women 40 and above were confused and hurt and felt excluded. This is the danger of organizing “BIG” things, and proclaiming them loudly rather than working peripherally. There is much good that can come from it, and I’m excited to see it happen, but… Please keep praying hard for God to guide your steps, your words, and your hearts, so it stays about Him and not you.

  • Lady Faith

    Titus 2:34 speaks of the older women in the body teaching the younger women how to love their husbands and children. As a woman approaching my mid-thirties, I think I’m probably right in the middle of the younger and older demographics now. I can say from experience, that I have felt mostly abandoned by the older generation of women, in all but one of the churches we’ve gone to over the past 16 years. Those who could have been embracing and supporting us in the first years of marriage and parenthood, sadly, were seemingly too busy and indifferent. How awesome it would have been to have some older ladies (there were a few, don’t get me wrong, but only in one church that we moved from) come alongside and take over for a time, when I didn’t have a mother to do so. How valuable it would have been to be encouraged to remain strong in discipline and child-rearing and in being a good wife. Many of my friends with young families have felt the same way. The women discussed in this article have sadly, I think, missed the boat with regards to their call to service in the church, and are now upset that their own needs are going unmet too. Try being more others-focused, and I think you’d find that you’re not marginalized. A woman who fears the Lord is to be praised, and it doesn’t matter what she looks like or how charming she is. Are we forgetting Proverbs 31:30? Is God’s Word true, or not? So, without intending to be harsh…if God’s Word is true and these women are not being praised, or appreciated, is it then likely that they do not really fear the Lord? I know the church as a whole is growing cold, but God will exalt the humble.

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  • Alice

    I am 52 years old, never married, and have a busy, high-pressure professional life. However, I left the Episcopal church I attended and supported for many years because there was, quite literally, nothing for me there. Yes, I was welcome to attend services and sit by myself, and they were happy enough to get my checks, and they certainly solicited my pledge every year, but I was never included in anything or made to feel welcomed or valued in any way. I was utterly invisible except for my checkbook.

  • Gina Smith

    Wow…thank you! Maybe the tides are turning!
    I am 51…online…and have felt all you have described! But I’m here!
    http://www.reallifetitustwo.com