Last summer’s release of my book, Please Pass the Faith: the Art of Spiritual Grandparenting, has yielded a rich crop of invitations to discuss healthy ways of grandparenting and relating across generational divides. I’m enjoying the ride. Rewarding conversations with old and young have ensued. I’ve learned about many creative ways grandparents stay in touch with their grandchildren and I’ve made some new young friends.
I’ve been blessed by congregations where it is hard to tell who is biologically related because they are all so socially and spiritually related. After all, when there are only a hundred people living in your village, planning for intergenerational events isn’t necessary; everyone’s participation is required and appreciated!
In urban centers, though, the experience can be different. Because urbanites have easy access to so many activities and relationships, congregational social networks tend to be less robust and disconnectedness can take root. Young and old may not know each other unless they are members of the same biological family, or they are deliberate about building an intergenerational sense of community.
The good news is that some of our congregations are becoming more intergenerational. They do so knowing that seniors age better when they have significant relationships with the young, and that young people stay more closely connected to faith communities when they are in significant relationships with seniors. They do so as a creative response to the reality that only 20% of today’s grandparents live in close proximity to their grandchildren, and even fewer of those grandchildren participate in the congregation of their grandparents.
While connecting with biological grandchildren is a great natural way to build multi-age communities, we need to develop and affirm alternatives. For example, try having a deliberate focus on surrogate or spiritual grandparenting on National Grandparents Day on the second Sunday in September, or any other Sunday in which we bless this aspect of church communities.
Many of our congregations already do well with selecting and blessing mentor pairs when the mentee turns 12. That’s great, but let’s expands this good practice. Let’s bless seniors in our congregations as they relate in life and faith affirming ways with the church’s children and youth.
The 2011 Evangelical Fellowship of Canada study: Hemorrhaging Faith: Why and When Canadian Young Adults are Leaving, Staying and Returning to the Church includes the good news that intergenerational relationships and service trips have a positive impact on young people’s allegiance to faith and their faith community.
Let’s use this finding as an encouragement to serve together in all kinds of contexts – at our local summer camps, on Mennonite Disaster Service trips, at the local thrift store or soup kitchen.
Let’s be intentional about travelling our journey of faith together, knowing that, wherever we are along the road, God has a place for us. And that place is blessed by being in relationship with God’s children of all ages.