In Praise of Old Church Ladies

The Backbone of the Body of Christ

This article is by Alyssa Stockdill:

Terri, one of my church’s resident “church ladies” has a Facebook account. However, if you send her a friend request, she will not accept it. She graces social media with her presence for two purposes only: to communicate with her family, and to post borderline inappropriate personal updates in our church’s private Facebook group. The posts that get the most engagement are photos from her world travels, usually of her posing next to various statues. A fan favorite is the one of her standing next to a poster of a matador somewhere in Spain, her hand placed delicately over his bum and her face in a mischievous smirk. She is no stranger to lighthearted fun — even on social media (a rare thing nowadays). Terri, you see, doesn’t take herself all that seriously. But it’s her warmth and generosity that make her so uncommonly wonderful.

Needless to say, the church ladies that I know do not fit into the usual stereotypes: lips pursed, arms crossed, dishing out judgement and condescension to those who do not meet their particular standard of holiness.

Instead, when I think about church ladies, what comes to mind are a group of some of the most hilarious and selfless women I have ever had the privilege of meeting. Terri, Connie, and Angie are a spunky, (sometimes snarky), but mostly sweet, trio of retired nurses, who, now in their mid-70s, spend their days faithfully [wo]manning the front desk at the church office, sewing reusable feminine hygiene products to send to rural Zambia as part of a church-wide initiative, and forging deep friendships with some of the church’s youngest members (some might call it “babysitting”). They have been known to sit on the side-lines of the annual Sports Camp to run young soccer players to the bathroom or to bandage their scrapes. They volunteer as weekly reading buddies at the nearby elementary school. When invited to plays, concerts, or sporting events by our youth and young adults, they are always eager to fill seats in the audience, cheer during the standing ovation, and rave in the lobby afterward. In their spare time, these ladies go on long walks around the city with their posse to stay in shape, and oh, yeah, travel the world together.

These ladies have kept busy in their retirement, and I know that I have only described a piece of their lives — that part I see on a regular basis and from which I have personally and frequently benefitted.

I often find myself spending a lot of time trying to find the balance between my impulse to help and my impulse to self-protect. I say “yes” to too many activities or people, and as I inevitably become stretched too thin, I begin to resent those to whom I have offered my services. As I give away my time, I will admit that my attitude is too often anything but cheerful. On the other hand, the busier I become, the more I appreciate those who love with their entire selves, who give with no strings attached, and whose love inspires me to be a good steward of my own limited resources and to give generously from them.

While time and talent have always been resources to be offered up for the love of God and neighbor as much as our monetary or material goods, it seems that in our busy and distracted culture, time and attention are the most precious resources of all. My instinct is often to hoard my time, but Terri, Connie, and Angie embody what it means to be a cheerful giver. They exhibit radical, yet ordinary generosity of their time, resources, curiosity, attention, and energy. Their love does not come with any expectation that it be reciprocated to the same extent, or even at all. They invite others to “give freely of themselves according to their ability,” (2 Cor 9:7) by the attractive force that their abundant, overflowing joy has on those around them. They are marked less by the bounty of their output than they are by the bountiful blessings given to them by God which they pour out to others.

One day, I was chatting with Connie during her shift at the front desk. As she listened with rapt attention while I shared with her about the latest happenings in my life, it occurred to me how rarely I encounter someone who listens with such interest and care, let alone three of them. Our church community has indeed been blessed by these ladies and many like them over the years.

Church ladies may get a bad rap, but they shouldn’t. Judging from the ones I know, they are the backbone of the body of Christ. What they lack in youth, they make up for in youthful enthusiasm. They may not have a TikTok account, but they are trendsetters of a different kind. Church ladies bear the kind of wisdom that exceeds anything you can learn in books, a patience and grace refined by years of faithfulness.

I hope that everyone can find a church lady in their life — someone eager to pour themselves out for you, eager to pour out their time to be with you, eager to pour out their attention to listen to your story, eager to pour out their resources to buy you a coffee or send you a book in the mail. Someone to be a vessel into which God pours his abundant grace, making you sufficient in all things so that you are able to abound in every good, ordinary, and selfless work.

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8 responses to “In Praise of Old Church Ladies”

  1. Trevor Giuliani says:

    So true! As a member of episcopal and Lutheran churches in Oregon, I have had the pleasure of meeting many of these sweet unsung heroes of the faith. Their welcoming warmth is so generous and soothing.

  2. Jenna says:

    Where would the church be without the humble service of our church ladies?! They truly are a blessing to us all.

  3. Kathy Crosby says:

    This is wonderful, Alyssa … and true! Thanks for honoring these three and the others they represent who incarnate the love and care of Jesus in the way they live.

  4. Elizabeth Cosgriff says:

    Our minister calls these women “the mothers of the church.” And now that’s how I think of them.

  5. Blake Nail says:

    I’m realizing I need an old church lady in my life, thanks for informing me! great read

  6. Miss Gael says:

    Since I turned 70 not long ago, I should strive to be more like these ladies.

  7. Marsha says:

    Alyssa what a lovely tribute to these ladies. So well said. Would that all of us would be so blessed by like minded servants in our midst, and maybe even be inspired to be the same!

  8. Carlos Calderon says:

    As a foreign immigrant, away from family I can speak of old ladies grandmothers (and grandfathers) that have freely shared of their love and wisdom to my kids, wife and I.
    Well written and so true! Thanks, Alyssa.

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