A Unitarian Universalist Multigenerational Ministry Resource

In John Roberto’s article, Best Practices in Intergenerational Faith Formation, he writes,” Religious congregations are among the very few settings where three or more generations gather for intentional activities. Yet even in churches, young people are segregated by age from the rest of the community for most of their activities. In a typical church today a child can be involved in [religious] education programs from first grade through high school and never have the opportunity to meet and learn with other generations in faith community – to the detriment of the individual and the other generations. In some congregations they are even separated for worship”

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Comments on: "Have you been able to address this challenge in your work?" (1)

  1. Randy Becker said:

    The challenge is always to balance multiple needs of everyone involved:

    — each age group has specific and specialized needs in terms of developmental issues, life concerns, spiritual complexity, and social skills which are best addressed in like-need cohorts

    — each age group also has specific and specialized needs which can only be thoroughly addressed by being part of a multi-age matrix which includes each of them as both learner and teacher elements

    — the community as a whole also has needs for diversity, inclusion, and continuity if it is to fulfill its potential for being a meaningful institution in the life of the individual.

    To the extent that we focus on any one of these needs to the exclusion of the others, we certainly do manifest Roberto’s image of religious congregations.

    So, how to manage to the full matrix of generational needs, and not just compartmentalize our programs?

    (for my instructive image, I look to Gabriel Moran and his four facets of congregational life: contemplation (worship), study, work, and play. We do study quite well because it may be the place where we can most easily group people according to needs and abilities. The other areas, I think, are where we can grow a more multi-generational community.)

    Some to the programs in which I have found success in intentionally building programs across ages are (and I know others can add many more):

    — summer camp experiences, especially when the camp setting includes a full range of ages, from about second grade through high school for campers, and college-age through retirees as staff

    —–as a subgroup of this, remember that multi-generational also applies among our children and youth, because developmentally our 16 year olds, and our 11 years olds, and our 7 year olds, and our 3 year olds all have something to impart to each other of memory and vision. Most of our existing RE programs are multi-generational in this way, but we do not often enough build on this.

    — many kinds of mentoring experiences in which projects of study are facilitated by shared wisdom and expertise – and remember this can go both ways as sometimes our children can mentor adults on things like fun!

    — inclusion in the programming of a congregation of work and play opportunities. Working or playing alongside each other can be a most powerful experiences for everyone concerned. A specific question: when was the last time your congregation planned an event that was just plain play?

    — invitations to household consideration of topics or issues. The Advent Calendar of Household Activities I developed invited people of all ages to understand the inherently universal experience of celebration.

    — in worship, provision of child-size chairs so that the children are comfortable participants in worship. It is amazing how much more attentive and involved people are when they have accommodations appropriate to their size!

    — and bulletin boards which are not all set for people 5’5″ or taller!

    — and the ever-present issue of social hour, converted from area of conflict to shared event by creating a child-level area of refreshments as good as the more adult-level area of refreshments.

    — planning, creating, and then marching with the congregation’s “float” in the annual December Holiday parade, or the Martin Luther King Day parade.

    Yep, all simple ideas, shared by many of us, but worth repeating.

    And let’s not forget that when we ask most adults why they come to our congregations, theology rarely is the first response – a sense of community is. As we intentionally build times of community that are open to all, we share that greatest meaning of a congregation. (Now, don’t get me wrong – I think there is nothing wrong with adult only evenings or youth only conferences or child only (with supervision, of course) events, but only if there are many, many opportunities as well for community without age restrictions.

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