As I was swimming laps yesterday I reflected on the great interactions I’ve had in small rural congregations where I’ve spoken about the art of spiritual grandparenting. I’ve been impressed with the strength of the relationships between old and young, and how relaxed the youth are about their image. For instance, last Sunday, four teenagers came out of the balcony to participate in the children’s time I had prepared for 4-8 year olds! They certainly wouldn’t feel free to do that in my city church.
So, how is this like life in the pool at the community centre pool where I swim my laps?
Life in a rural community is a little like life in the shallow end of the pool. People are aware of each other. All ages mix as children play with parents, children with disabilities take lessons with their caregivers, and seniors who walk laps often engage the young in friendly small talk. Now and then some parents look longingly across the bulkhead to the lap sections where they’d like to be working out. The variety of activities possible in shallow water helps these people connect with and watch out for each other. It’s a friendly inter-generational place.
This is also what has impressed me about the rural communities that have invited me to speak about my book Please Pass the Faith: the Art of Spiritual Grandparenting. They know they need each other, and want to get even better at sharing life and faith across the generations. I wonder if they value these connections more than city churches because many aspects of rural congregational life are only possible when people of all ages pitch in and cooperate.
Larger urban congregations remind me more of the lap pool, where swimmers stay in their lanes, and contact between swimmers is minimal. When the pool is full, polite sharing of a lane occurs, but swimmers are careful to minimize contact and only engage in limited conversation. Swimmers with goggles and snorkels can even experience virtual solitude as long as no one crosses their swimming path. The focus of the swimmers is on their selected program of strokes and stretches. They respect each others privacy and accomplish much. But some swimmers do pause and look across the bulkhead to enjoy the lively interactions in the shallow end.
Focusing on good, life enhancing programs is also common in urban congregations. Lots of programs operate for age and interest specific groups, and much is accomplished. Contact between specific age or interest groups is minimal because there are so many resources to draw on, so many good options to choose from. But we long for stronger connections across the generations, for relationships that are solid enough to share faith journeys with each other. Some of us plan church retreats to help that happen.
In a swimming pool, each section has its good purpose, and behavioural guidelines in each section need to be different. I wonder if this also holds true for rural and urban congregations? Or are there ways we can benefit form each others strengths? What do you think?