One of the best things about Billy Connelly’s childhood was belonging to the Cubs, the junior section of the Boy Scouts. Once a year the Cubs would run a ‘Bob a job’ week where they would knock the doors of the more prosperous homes in Glasgow and ask, ‘anything for Bob-a-job week?’ A bob was the nickname for a shilling (worth 12 pennies in those days) and the Cub would be given a task to do, like raking the lawn or fetching coal, or walking the dog, and get paid a shilling – worth about £1.35 in today’s money.
Billy remembers that in one of the houses lived an elderly man, who wore a cardigan and corduroys and looked like he’d been a schoolteacher or a doctor. He treated Billy very nicely. He would talk to him about Trinidad and Tobago, where he spent many years. They would sit beside his fire and Billy would polish his shoes. It was a peaceful time and it gave Billy a love of shoe polishing that has never left him. But it isn’t his lifelong obsession with shoes that blesses Billy. It was the older man’s kindness and paying attention to him.
But the best thing, says Billy, ‘was knowing an adult who took the time to talk kindly and respectfully to me. At home, no one would ever do that – let alone listen.’[i]
The Bob-a-job scheme ended in 1992, and there are few natural opportunities today for older people to bless children in this way.
But there’s an example in a church in California, where the pastor, Karl Vaters, intentionally brings the generations together.[ii] The whole ethos of the church is family, where elders are valued and respected.
Outside the auditorium there are benches for older people to sit before and after the services. Children are among the first to go up and chat to them. These children are probably not as disadvantaged as Billy Connolly was, but they are still blessed by the older person’s listening and close attention.
Older people have more time than harassed parents, and often more compassion and understanding. It’s part of the role that God intended for them. As more churches recognise this and appreciate their value, perhaps more will be ‘commissioned’ to serve.
[i] Billy Connolly’s autobiography, ‘Windswept and Interesting’, is published by Two Roads on October 14.