Ok, so it doesn’t work as well as the Lennon/McCartney original. Still.
Consider this a more or less open thread on the topic of serving “senior missions” (has the church settled on a specific nomenclature yet?). Some months ago, after listening to a talk at a stake conference, or perhaps a general conference address, it suddenly hit me: by the time I am retirement age (sometime in the 2030s), serving a mission with one’s spouse as a senior couple will be nearly as expected, and perhaps even nearly as common, as is it for young men to serve missions today. My track record with predictions is spectacularly poor; still, given the continual and increasing emphasis the church leadership has placed on such missionary work, it seems inevitable that the numbers of those who serve will only increase, and with it an increase in expectations. I’m not sure how I feel about this, but let me kick things off with some preliminary thoughts:
1. No matter how much religious fervor and social urgency may be generated by the push for senior missionaries, the rate of service probably won’t ever match that of nineteen-year-olds, for the simple reason that a grown person, with family and work and a history in a community, is a whole lot more susceptible to peer pressure than a teen-ager. Not that Mormon missionaries serve primarily or even significantly simply as a response to peer pressure, but it’s crazy to deny that the calculus isn’t there: the social difficulty, if not impossibility, of fitting comfortably into mainstream Mormon culture and ward units as a young man who chose not to serve a mission definitely looms large in the decisionmaking of many. (I’m speaking of those raised in the church here; recent converts are a different story.) I don’t see how such concerns could loom large in the thinking of two sixty-five-year-old lifetime members. Of course, should it essentially be made into a commandment–as in “the Lord expects every worthy older couple to serve a mission”–then that would be one thing…but even then, I expect that as many seniors as respond to such in the affirmative there would still be a large percentage that wouldn’t; definitely larger than the number of young men who say no.
2. As the expectation to serve a senior mission grows, won’t it have incidental, almost unconcious effects on the lifestyle and occupational choices of many members? My dad has been a businessman and entrepreneur for decades; he’s made a lot of money, but he also has a lot of debts and more than a few ongoing lawsuits. He won’t be called on a mission with all that hanging over his head, the same that, generally speaking, a young man who has a lot of consumer debt and unpaid credit cards won’t be called on a mission. We subtlely shape and encourage prospective missionaries in numerous ways, so that they’ll be able to serve when the call comes: their dating and social habits, most expecially, but also in terms of their education and professional plans. (A young man in our ward recently accepted a basketball scholarship to a lesser university rather than his preferred one, because the former school wouldn’t allow him to defer his scholarship for a couple of years, while the latter one did.) Will the expectation of senior service have consequences for how Mormons prepare for retirement, choose where they’re going to live or how big a mortgage to take one, and decide on their career. My dad loves the give and take of the business world, but I also know he’s tired of the constant debt negotiations and lawsuits, and wishes he could extricate himself somehow; unfortunately, he can’t anytime soon without substantially losing the family’s and several others’ collective shirts. If he’d been taught ever since he was young that he and his wife needed to be able to pick up and go once they hit their mid-60s, would he have made the same choices he has? Probably not.
3. I confess: the idea of serving another mission just turns me off. For reasons that had far more to do with myself than my environment, my mission was more unhappy and crisis-inducing than happy and fulfilling; I really don’t want to go and do anything like that kind of work again. Of course, everyone knows that senior missionaries very rarely do any actual proselyting, but still the fear is there, and I’m sure I’m not alone. But perhaps this just all depends on how the “second time around” is presented to the church membership. If serving a senior mission really does become both common and expected, then that old canard about the mission being “the best two years of your life,” or all that rhetoric about how the mission is the apex/proving-ground/fundamental-test for one’s whole subsequent spiritual life, will have to be retired; in its place we’d perhaps have the claim that the senior mission is the superior mission, the one conducted with all the benefit of hindsight and years of experience, the one where you’re trusted enough to work alongside your beloved spouse rather than some randomly picked schmoe, the one where you can “fulfill” (or, dare I say it, “redeem”?) all the work (or lack thereof) from 40 years before. Put it that way, and I can think of more than a few reluctant former missionaries who might really be sold on the idea.