Ever hear of the Lemon Drop? If you live in Indiana (Anderson to be exact) and are a novice “foodie,” then your answer is yes!
Jutting out from the middle of nowhere, you’ll miss it if you blink. It’s really the only remaining active business still standing in the shadows of the creepy, boarded-up Mounds Mall. Although its yellow exterior has grown a bit distressed with time, the array of cars, work trucks, and motorcycles in the parking lot scream OPEN!
This place takes pride in its heritage and defies the adage, “All things must change to something new, to something strange” (H. W. Longfellow). It was kept, loved, and sought-after because it was familiar. Familiarity: the quaint quality of being known from past, personal, and positive experiences.
Stepping through its single-framed glass door is like walking into a family reunion. Everyone is smiling like they know you, even though they probably don’t. As if you’re related somehow. But it doesn’t really matter one way or the other because you feel like you belong. It’s a shoulder-to-shoulder environment because there is only a walk-up counter with ten spinning red stools or your pick of five booths to slide into. The whole building is not more than a 30’ x 30’ room—kitchen included.
We took the kids to the Lemon Drop Café for lunch one particular day. Boys at the counter, girls in a booth. The walls proudly stamped with famous faces. People of all ages came through the door. A young mother and her daughter smiled as they managed atop the swivel seats. Street workers in and out grabbing a hamburger to go (on a toasted bun because that’s their thing.) Two older ladies hunched over with laughter in the side booth about something worthy. A man in sharp business-wear with an “Anderson University” tag on his lapel. And, in the far booth, on the same side of the table, an elderly couple leaned close together sharing french fries.
And then he came in.
An older, bald man, his body bent and twisted from the years, his face firm and determined. The place was packed, standing room only, but he wanted to be there. One swivel seat sat open right in front of the cash register. I watched him will himself to fit and balance onto the stool. He managed it because he wanted to be there. The young woman behind the counter met him with a smile and said, “Your usual? Hamburger, fries, and vanilla shake?” I didn’t see his head move, but he must have given her some sort of confirmation. “You got it!” she said with a wink.
I looked at Anna, and she looked back at me with a knowing expression. This man belonged. And he felt deeply that he belonged.
Then came my tears. I was surprised by the emotion, but it comes with qualification.
Over the past several years, David and I have noticed a trend in the Church. It is fair to say that we probably see it magnified more than most because we travel to different churches regularly. Like when you see your friend’s children only every other year, and all of a sudden, they look like completely different humans. We see massive amounts of change in the Church, some good and some extremely concerning.
To be clear, I’m going to stay in one lane for this article. I’m steering away from focusing on the topic of the modern, blacked-out sanctuaries with strobe lights and disco balls on top of The Lord’s Table, the Communion Table (that is if the Communion Table hasn’t already been donated to a Goodwill; I’ve seen three so far, and they’re going for $15 each). But I digress. I’ll simply focus on belonging.
Our daughter, Emma, is a freshman at Olivet Nazarene University. She has been raised in multiple churches as she has traveled and sang with our group her entire life. We are typically booked at healthy, well-rounded churches which are generally not segregated (segregated, meaning one type of worship, typically either traditional or contemporary). I’m eagerly waiting for that one church that goes full-on Polka. Hmmm.
For clarity, the non-segregated churches are the ones that embrace corporate worship: an intentional, beautiful blend of hymns, choruses, and new (theologically correct) worship music. We like it all when done well.
During Emma’s first several weeks at ONU, she went church hopping, searching for a place to worship. It came down to two options: a blacked-out sanctuary type, which she said made her sleepy, or a church that had made it their “mission to change.” They went as far as to have the smattering of people “60 and over” stand to receive an applause for “those who stayed.” And, she said, they looked positively unamused. Her words were: “It made me sad. I don’t get why churches only want to cater to the young. I like going to churches who have all ages. I like older people...
"They make me feel loved, they remember my name, and I learn so much from them.”
And here is where I go down a rabbit hole…
A large part of the foundation of my faith as a fifty-something adult was fashioned by the saints of my childhood. I would watch and listen to them sing “testimony songs.” Songs like “I Would Love to Tell You What I Think of Jesus” and “When We All Get to Heaven.” Their faces would have this supernatural glow, and their eyes danced with delight. They would share about their lives and how God led them through great trials. They were wise, and there was value in listening to what they had to say. Job 12:12 (NLT) says it well: “Wisdom belongs to the aged, and understanding to the old.” They knew my name and were present and active in multiple ministries of the church. They were recognized, honored, and sought-after for advice and counsel because they were wise, seasoned, valued, and they belonged and wanted me to know that I belonged.
Here’s the heavy.
The truth is, in the church of today, many seasoned saints do not feel connected. Some churches have dramatically changed and perhaps inadvertently wiped out familiarity.
Our teenage children LOVE to check out every new church we sing at. They jump off the bus, go inside for a quick survey, and return with a report. Here’s a high-rated review:
“Guys… it is beautiful! It looks like a church! Stained-glass windows, baptismal” (very important, because, well, they’re just plain fun), “a hanging cross, altars in front, a real pulpit, and a Communion Table.” (Extra points if it is tastefully decorated.)
This, in the eyes of a teenager, is familiarity. I’ve also heard them comment: “Well, it looks like a theater not a church. I want to feel like I’m going to church.”
To qualify even more, there’s this odd exchange Emma experienced in an Art Appreciation class she took at a local COMMUNITY college. The professor put a picture on the screen of a church sanctuary. She said, “This is how the church I used to attend looked like before they changed everything. Now, the walls are all black, church symbols are removed. What do you all think about this?” Now Emma was stunned. This, she wanted to hear. A college classroom full of mostly 17-20-year-olds:
“Yeah. That happened to my church too. I don’t really like it.”
“My church changed, and I wish it still looked the same.”
“Our church feels dark and boring without all the light coming in.”
“It’s not the church I remember as a kid; I’d rather have that.”
Familiarity. It doesn’t mean that nothing changes. After all, “Change is the evidence of life” (Evelyn Waugh). But when we scrap it all and ride the waves of trends, we lose connection, disarm the power of tradition, and sadly, alienate more than just the “60-and-over” crowd.
In a recent article, “Dying to Belong: The Importance of Familiarity in Later Life,” it says that up to one-half of all older adults feel lonely on a regular basis, and they associate loneliness with the loss of familiarity and connection to community.
Eastern cultures place great importance on regarding the aged. They are deeply respected for their wisdom and are routinely consulted when important decisions need to be made. The jury is out, so to speak, on whether the modern Church in our Western culture really values what they think. Yet Leviticus 19:32 (NIV) calls us to value them. “Stand up in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God.”
Perhaps it is not just the old who feel lonely and misrepresented. Maybe that’s the missing link for many churches teetering on the brink of change or, sadly, collapse. There is much to learn from community, corporate worship, and togetherness. The weak and the strong, the old and the young, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight…” ALL of God’s children.
All ages of souls are worth saving, keeping, and valuing.
… An older, bald man, his body bent and twisted from the years, his face firm and determined. The place was packed, standing room only, but he wanted to be there. I watched him will himself to fit… He managed it because he wanted to be there. He wanted to belong.
Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine. “Dying to Belong: The Importance of Familiarity in Later Life” (L. Carragher, PhD and C. Ryan, PhD), ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
Age Friendly Ireland. (2020)
“Positive Quotations”. Compiled by John Cook. Gramercy Books. 1993 Rubicon Press.