Jul 15, 2016

Nurturing Intergenerational Friendships (Q and LA)

Sometimes our readers send us questions about which they would like to talk to other Lutheran women. Today’s question is,

"How can we help form inter-generational friendships and relationships within the church? For instance, can you suggest ways that kids can be encouraged to get to know older people in the congregation, or older women can successfully mentor and connect with the younger women?"

We’ve asked a few writers to respond. This Q and LA (questions and Lutheran answers) session is meant to be informal and conversational, rather as if we were all having coffee together. Feel free to chime in via the comments.

Kaethe Ward (Kaethe is a mother of six who is not above bribing her toddler twins with more cookies during the church fellowship hour if it buys her time for tea and adult conversation).

Such a thoughtful question! Church is one of the few opportunities many of us have to really interact with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ of all ages. Inter-generational friendships are a wonderful blessing within parish life, especially for those of us who do not live close to our own extended family.

Regular church attendance is the primary way to strengthen those bonds. It often helps to sit in the same area each Sunday. (I know! So Lutheran of us!) and to regularly make conversation with the people near us each and every week. This may be awkward or difficult when you have children pulling on you after church to hurry up and escape to the toy room, but even a few minutes of asking those next to you questions like, “What are you doing to enjoy this beautiful weather?” or “How was your week?” pays off. If you can share something about your own family’s lives, even better. Church potlucks, Lenten/Advent meals, or Sunday School picnics are also times families with young children can purposely seek out older adults to sit nearby and get to know better. Some may be more than willing to hold a baby while parents eat!

Specific programs can also intentionally strengthen these bonds. Our current church and school has a “Church Buddies” program. Older adults are paired up with children in the church and exchange notes as pen pals, with mail delivery through the church mailboxes. This would be an excellent addition to a Sunday School program. When the children write back to their Buddies, they often include invitations to school concerts, or church family activities. The organization MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is a wonderful ministry that specifically includes “Mentor Moms” in encouraging and supporting younger women. I received much wisdom from attending a MOPS group at a Christian church in my neighborhood and would love to see more Lutheran parishes develop such programs. LCMS deaconesses would be especially skilled in leading such ministries.

Midweek Bible studies are also times to expand your social circle. Many are attended by older women in the congregation who would love the opportunity to get to know you and your children better. My friend even chose her daughter’s godmother from her weekly Bible study group because she wanted her infant daughter to have a godmother she knew was strong in her faith and that she would see regularly in church and Bible study. The fact that the godmother was mid-80’s did not deter her.

Above all, regularly pray for those in your church with whom you are forging friendships. Even little ones can be taught to pray prayers such as, “Dear Jesus, Please be with Mrs. Jones during her surgery tomorrow.” Thank God regularly for the gift of your church family and pray that he will continue to work good through you to them.

Penny Mechler (Penny has been married to Bob for 32 years. They’ve been Lutherans for 5 years).  

The only thing I can offer is we need to meet more often outside of Sunday services. I think women's Bible studies or Bible study in general, church family picnics and activities are great ways to form intergenerational friendships. It takes time to get to know one another and there is not enough time on Sunday.

I for one have not been a Lutheran woman long enough to mentor anyone. In fact, all the years I've attended church (before becoming Lutheran) no one has mentored me. I think women's Bible study would be a great place to begin this.

Children are a joy to be around. They are a blessing to us all. I think we need more time to be around each other to get to know one another. Again, more church family opportunities to spend time together.

Alison Andreasen (Alison loves that since its beginning, Lutheran Christendom sought to maintain truth in whatever context Christians found themselves. Believers live their lives with reverence to God, humility toward one another, and boldness as God's children, seeking and receiving forgiveness as they go.)

When I think of how to encourage Christians to be Christians, which is what you are really wanting it seems, my motto is "Just Do It." If we want children to meet older people in the church, we should take our own children to see them and encourage others to do the same. Instead of asking Siri or googling the best way to plant a tomato plant, people can call a member of the church that gardens. Go to a nursing home or assisted living center with your immediate family. Ultimately we care for the elderly, or our neighbor, or the sick because they need us. We take our children with us as we minister to them--not FOR the benefit of our children, per se, but because God delights when His children care for one another and our children are part of the Body of Christ.
Much of what is needed in our churches, especially large ones, is more communication and encouragement. I have found that people aren't aware of the needs of others because they don't want to "burden" anyone. Hooey! That is what people do! We burden each other! And it is a good thing! As newborns, someone has to change our diapers; as teenagers, people bear with our vanity; as adults we seek help when lonely, depressed, wandering or sick. We were made to be in relationships with others and should first be freed to admit need. Secondly, we must be okay being burdened. It is often inconvenient when someone stops by uninvited who needs something from us but that is why we are put in places with people. Not to brush them off because they didn't make an appointment first, but because God put them in our lives for their good and for our good as we develop selflessness and humility. Churches can do a lot by combating this aspect of American culture which so obviously conflicts with our Christian culture.
We live in a disconnected culture and people are not aware of what is going on in each others’ lives. Some people would say a program or event connecting generations is the answer. I think it will do some good, but maybe instead of planning one-time events or programs to help connect generations, perhaps we could find the needs of individuals through good old fashioned conversations. We could find those who are interested in filling those needs the same way. There might be fewer people that latch onto opportunities than attend an event, but the ones that do will have authentic experiences and authentic connections will be made. A young family might respond to a need posed in an announcement after church that Mrs. Oliver, (who lives on their street but they never knew it) needs her gutters cleaned. And once they are there, Mrs. Oliver shares with them her life story and shows them antique toys from when she was little and voila, relationships are started! Please do not hear me say that I am against "programs." Any contact between generations is a good one, but think of how much time is spent on copying paper, cutting things out, administrative tasks that could have been used in direct conversations with people!

Katy Peperkorn (Katy is a pastor’s wife who enjoys spending time with her husband, daughter, and two cats).

Overall, churches need to look more at creating a large family and less at breaking up the members into smaller groups. Our country has become more and more transitory over recent decades, making it less likely that families will be close enough to worship in the same church. Once upon a time, it was likely that churches would have 3 or 4 generations worshipping together with older family members teaching younger family members, but this is not the norm anymore. Consequently, we should try to make the structure of our churches reflective of an actual family—with young and old intermingling regularly.

First, churches might want to stop isolating children by age groups like our country’s traditional school system does. While it is good to take the time to teach children about the Bible at a level they can understand, often children wind up isolated from the rest of the congregation. Of course that makes it difficult to relate to older members. In my observations, the best way to counteract this isolation is for churches—especially churches that aren’t big enough to have a large Sunday School or youth group program—to focus on congregational activities rather than demographic activities. Rather than having a pizza party for only confirmation students, why not have a pizza and game night for everyone? Instead of sending the high schoolers to their youth room for Sunday school every week, why not occasionally keep them in the adult Bible study so they have the opportunity to study God’s Word with their parents and other adult members? By giving children more opportunities to interact with older members, they are given a chance to form relationships with people outside of their age group.

Additionally, I think church members need to let go of the idea that they need a church social group geared specifically toward their situation in order to form relationships (i.e.—a youth group, a young adult group, a singles group, etc.). While I certainly enjoy chatting with other young mothers about the trials and joys of childrearing, I don’t need this to be my sole interactions within the church. Over the years, I’ve struggled to let go of the expectation that there should be a group in the church that caters to my place in life. I’m trying to change this. Being part of a church where most of the members are 50 or older, it’s more likely that I will interact with someone 20 or 30 years older than me than someone my age. And just because there isn’t a young moms’ group in my church (there aren’t enough young mothers to create one!) doesn’t mean other members don’t love and care for me.

As for older women successfully mentoring younger women, there needs to be a change in both groups. Older women can sometimes (not all the time) show disrespect to younger women by making light of their struggles. Just because the younger generation’s difficulties are different than those of 30, 40, or 50 years ago doesn’t mean they are any easier. Likewise, younger women would be wise to swallow some of their pride and admit that they don’t have it all figured out in order to sincerely ask for help from older women.

Of course, these are just ideas, so please let me know if any of these ideas have or haven’t worked in your church!

1 comment:

  1. I especially agree with Katy Peperkorn's answer. As a mom with young kids, I do like interacting with other moms, but not just moms with young kids -- through church, I've made friends with people whose kids are younger or older than mine, even much older and starting to leave the nest. It's been a great way to share knowledge and encourage each other. If I was in a church with a "young mommys group," I might miss out on that.

    Our church is in a very transitory area, so we have a lot of people moving in and out for work-related reasons, and very few older members because people tend to retire elsewhere. But one thing our church has done to allow people of all ages to get to know each other better is have "Family Nights" during Lent and Advent -- a weekly potluck supper, basically, with a devotion led by Pastor and a hymn or two to sing together. It's informal and fun, and you can sit by different people every week and get to know people you might otherwise not interact with. (I'm shy, so I tend to put my family at an empty table and then wait for someone else to come sit by us. Sometimes it's people I don't know well, and sometimes it's friends. Either way, it's always a great time for fellowship.)


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