Being Intentional, Being Intergenerational

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This year our congregation received a Worship Renewal Grant from the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. As part of our grant proposal we planned three intergenerational events. We like the concept and thought it might help us to get the grant. At that time, we had no idea exactly what we would do or how it would work.

When we got the grant we realized that we now had to plan these events. It was a challenge – how do you engage both adults and children in the same material at the same time? The focus of our grant was on the Psalms and visual arts. Neither of these areas screams intergenerational -- the adults would like the study of Psalms and the kids would enjoy the art but we needed them both to do both things.

We came up with a plan. We made the art project low stress for the adults who aren’t used to creating visual art and we worked on keeping our Psalm study both practical and in short pieces so the adults and children could work together well. Despite our worries, our events went very well. Adults, teens and kids mixed and had a great time together. The kids showed the adults how to do the artwork and the adults helped the kids with the study of a Psalm. One adult wasn’t real excited about doing the art until a 4th grader said she wasn’t very good at art and asked him for help. When groups were asked to select a reporter to report back to the whole group, most of the groups selected one of the children to report for them.

What happened on those evening of intergenerational events was different than most Sunday School programs. In Sunday School we tend to separate by age groups like in schools. There are good reasons for that. As we grow we can learn at age appropriate ways with our peers. A four year old is not ready to study the Heidelberg Catechism. A middle schooler may not get much out of a discussion on Islam. A high schooler wouldn’t want to sit and be part of a Bible Study on Galatians. An adult doesn’t want to do hands-on stuff that gets their hands dirty…. Or would they?

Have we been using the school paradigm too much? A four year old may not be ready to study to the Heidelberg Catechism but he may be ready to hear the Lord’s Prayer. The middle school and high school teen can gain a lot from being included in the discussion with adults. Adults can learn from children and children can learn with adults.

But it isn’t easy. Being intergenerational is hard work. The materials must be carefully chosen and the leaders must make sure all the participants feel like they are welcome and that they have something to contribute. I’m not ready to toss out the typical age-segregated Sunday School model but I have sure enjoyed seeing what happens when we put the whole church together. Have you had experiences like this? What made them work well? What bombed?

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I have such fond memories of events called "Hope's Hearth" that were intergenerational gatherings that took place in people's homes at the church I belong to in New Jersey. Back then I was a single young adult living 700 miles from my family. These events gave me the chance to interact in a family sort of way with people of all different ages. We shared a meal and a story and prayed for one another. I loved it when the kids prayed for the adults. It blessed me deeply and deepened my relationship with many people in our congregation. I can't wait until Faith Alive's new intergenerational curriculum comes out in the fall. I'm excited to give it a try at my church!