Since last summer I have been responding to 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 centres, 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 personally make deliberate attempts to build an intergenerational sense of community.
The good news is that some of our congregations are building stronger intergenerational communities. They do so in a creative response to today’s reality: Only 20 percent of grandparents live in close proximity to their grandchildren, and even fewer of those grandchildren participate in the congregation of their grandparents. They seek multi-age communities, 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.
While connecting with biological grandchildren is a great natural way to build multi-age communities, we need to develop and affirm the alternatives. For example, you might try offering a deliberate focus on surrogate or spiritual grandparenting on National Grandparents Day on the second Sunday in September or on any other Sunday when this aspect of church community is blessed.
Many of our congregations already select mentor pairs when the mentee turns 12. That’s great, but let’s expand 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, or 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.
Elsie Rempel is the formation consultant for Mennonite Church Canada and the author of Please Pass the Faith: The Art of Spiritual Grandparenting.