The Experiencing Life group meets weekly at the Kennett Senior Center, to give their perspectives on some of life's questions. New members and the general public are welcome.It's a common known fact, if you don't want to start an argument, stay away from discussing religion or politics. This group of seniors did pretty well discussing political differences so I wondered how they would handle religion. I was prepared for some strong emotions.

My first questions was, "Why is religion important and how has it affected your life?" Their answers were as expected, "to give us a guide for life...to give you discipline, to help you know you are loved and can find inner peace...to teach sacrifice and kindness..."

Next, I asked, "How has religion changed?" They responded, "Some of the religions are more open and understanding instead of just having rules...some have stopped a lot of their old rituals like dressing up for church... the music has become more modern in many churches...some have accepted modern issues such as divorce and birth control."

When I asked, "What are your worries or concerns about religion?" many issues and emotions were expressed. Some of the concerns were that younger people today were not going to church because parents didn't want to have them to resent it like they did.

Most of the group talked of how when they were young they were forced to go to church and did not want to go. "Going to church was torture...church seemed to be more about rules than love... people at church were more judgmental than loving and caring!" It was interesting to hear that only a couple of the group members enjoyed church as a child or a teen and they were of a different religion than the majority.

Another concern the group addressed was religion sometimes gets too caught up in the politics and power and forgets its purpose. They mentioned the poor handling of sexual abuse cases by church leaders. Many of them also voiced how churches seem to be focused on money. Although they understood the reality of needing to survive, most churches present the need for donations with an attitude of guilt that seems inconsistent with the meaning of Christianity.

We ended by discussing ways religion could improve and the group had some wonderful suggestions. First, make religion about love and caring. Focus on compassion, understanding, and acceptance instead of judging, guilt, damnation, rules, rituals and differences. Also, let necessary rules be age appropriate, different for children than adults. Children need to start early loving to go to church because if they feel loved, accepted and free to express themselves; they, in turn, will pass loving on to others. Punishment is something that should not happen in church...forgiveness and learning should happen instead. "Allow people to be open-minded and give them permission to make their own choices about their religious beliefs and desires." When you force something onto someone, they will never feel it's theirs and more often will rebel against it.

The seniors agreed the positive aspects of religion have tremendous value in each of their lives. They felt, however, some religious teachings and attitudes needed improvement. The seniors said, "It doesn't matter what church you go to...most still have the same Christ and the same god. Religion should be more about how you treat other people when you are not in church." Living religion and goodness instead of talking religion is what they felt was most important. One senior said, "I'd much rather see a sermon than hear one any day!"

? Contributions by: Irma Censurato, Flo Mastrippolito, Lou Kirkaldie, Dorothy Murray, Shobha Shorma, Albine Meyer, Ashley Corrado, Molly Rogan, Miriam Firzgerald, and R. Frank Robinson. Group funded by a grant from Health & Welfare Foundation of Southern Chester County.

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