Building Communities, Not Programs

This month, our blog series is actually a vlog series – a video blog, that is! We’re calling it “The NEXT Few Minutes.” Over the next several weeks, we’ll share with you short, 2-3 minute videos from a variety of folks around the country with the hopes they spark your own imagination. We hope you’ll learn about some trends, ask questions, and think deeply about the practice of ministry in your own setting.

Jen James, a christian educator in the National Capital Presbytery, asks what would happen if we spent more time considering what happened outside of the church walls instead of church programming. What if this year, our churches committed to making healthier communities instead of building up our own programming?  Join the conversation by commenting on this blog post or on our Facebook/Twitter pages!

To see all of our videos in our “The NEXT Few Minutes” series, check out our playlist on Youtube.

What Are We Praying For?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Steve Lindsley

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:6

Oops.  Prayer fail.

How did I find myself here, you ask?

steve panthers prayerLast September a lady in my church, a sweet woman who sings in the choir and works for American Airlines and happens to be a rabid Panthers fan, commented how cool it’d be if I did an invocation for a Panthers football game. Which I, of course, heartily concurred with. So she made some phone calls and discovered the application process. I submitted a page of information and she a letter of recommendation.

I actually forgot all about it until the January Monday morning after the final regular season game when an email from Jason in the Panthers Entertainment Division (yes, the Entertainment Division) popped up in my inbox. They needed an invocationist for their home playoff game less than two weeks away and had four tickets and field passes to go with it. Was I interested?

You bet your Keep Pounding hashtag I was.

If you want the play-by-play of the whole affair that brisk January Sunday morning, head over here to my blog. In short, it was a pretty amazing experience for the family and a lot of fun for this faithful Panthers fan. That guy you see standing on the end zone line of a home playoff game was as giddy as an elementary school kid on free snickerdoodle cookie day.

But after initially getting over the thrill of Jason’s email, I faced the hard questions:

What in the world do I pray for? How exactly does one pray at/for an NFL football game?

Jason had given me some guidelines, which were certainly helpful. No more than 45 seconds. Use generic names for God (in other words, “God”). Non-sectarian in nature. They even provided a sample model prayer. I’d need to submit my prayer by next week for official approval.

I have no problem with that; I’m cool to play by their rules. But still – what do I pray for?

Because I don’t pray for the home team to win, right? I mean, not out loud. If you saw me sitting on the living room couch during every regular season game, I think it’d be pretty obvious there was a lot of praying going on. But this would be different. I get that God doesn’t care who wins. That’s our job as the fans.

I also had a couple of people encourage me to take advantage of the “public pulpit” this kind of venue provides. Seize it as a platform to address some hot-topic issue and make a powerful statement to the masses. But I’ve never been a fan of that sort of thing – feels too much like deception and dishonesty and, in the end, being more about you than the issue itself.

So what should this invocation be all about? As far as I know, the Panthers are the only team in the NFL who does such a thing, perhaps modeled after the pre-race prayer in nearby NASCAR world. Twenty minutes before kickoff, when a good chunk of the crowd has just popped the top of an overpriced Bud Light in the concourse. Why pray?

Whatever reasons the Panthers have for this pre-game ritual is none of my concern. And I have no desire to be all platform-ish with words far removed from what I’d previously been green-lighted for. I think society expects this behavior from some segments of the church, whether it’s protesting against this cause or that policy, waving signs and shouting insults instead of listening and speaking in love. I sense a weariness and rolling of the eyes from the general populous over this sort of behavior.  

At the same time, I think something of value needs to be shared. I’m not a fan of content-void prayer. Because as much as I think society rolls their collective eyes at the church’s worst moments, I also believe society longs for the church, and those who represent it, to say and do something of consequence and meaning. They crave authenticity from the church.

So that’s what I’d shoot for in my prayer.  And when all was said and done, here’s what I came up with: 

God of all creation,

we come to you this afternoon with great excitement and anticipation,

as we share in the privilege

of watching two teams compete for their ultimate goal.

 

We pray for their safety and well-being;

and in return honor their efforts by exhibiting good sportsmanship and excellence ourselves.  

 

As we relish the joy of gamesmanship and competition,

we remember those near and far who are hurting and in need.  

 

May this game inspire us to live our lives to their fullest potential,

so that collectively we may pursue the greater good for all.  

 

We humbly ask that you hear our prayer this day, and may all the people say, AMEN.


Steve Spring 2015When he’s not being the senior minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, or songwriting/gigging, or keynoting/leading music for various retreats and conferences, or blogging at thoughts-musings.com, or playing pick-up basketball with his two sons, or cheering on his beloved Panthers and Hornets, or watching music reality TV shows with his lovely wife, Steve Lindsley is probably sleeping.

Energizers: Movement with a Purpose

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Omayra González- Méndez

Can you imagine fifty people doing silly movement to a song? What about 2,000 of them all together before worship? Well if you get the idea, you kind of know what “doing an energizer” is! Yep, it’s a silly thing that we do primarily at youth conferences, but I’ve been seeing it more often in other church gatherings.

Screen Shot 2016-06-11 at 2.03.02 PMWhat is the spirituality of having a group of people just dancing together on a song with movement that does not make any logical sense, not even professional movement? Or doing friendship bracelets or play outside with a ball? Well, that is all part of what we call recreation.

Recreation is more than “time to play.” It is about creating community. For years, I have been a rec leader in many events and people think “Oh, that’s so fun, you are just playing around.” Don’t get me wrong, we play and have fun, but we do with a meaning and purpose. The psalms often talk about dancing and praise – “Praise him with the timbrel and dance; praise him with stringed instruments and organs” (Psalm 150:4).  Ecclesiastes 3:4 also tells us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”

The truth is that some people don’t feel good about their body or they see other people moving and feel ashamed and don’t know how to express their joy. That’s why we dance. When you dance with a lot of other people, you don’t feel shame. It is part of feeling good about who you are and being with others who feel the same. The energy goes around, the spirit moves.

I learned this when I was a youth myself. At that age you don’t always understand your body – everything is changing and you are much more self-conscious about what you’re doing and how you look. But when you create space for people to feel safe, when you create the expectation that we don’t want you to be perfect, that we accept you as God accept you for who you are, you start moving, you start dancing and you feel free.

And what about games and crafts? Well, that is another way to express yourself. Doing crafts allows you time to sit down and focus on something specific. Many crafts have connections with a sermon or a specific Bible verse. The idea is to keep you thinking on the word of the Lord. A teacher just told me that you remember only 10% of what you hear but 70% of what you do, so I think that crafts and games have their importance.   

I try to lead games that invite people work together, help people understand the need to be part of the greater body of Christ. Everyone has a purpose. Sometimes people don’t stop to think of the theological part of what they are doing – and that’s okay – but I know that God works in every single moment of the day.

Energizers may not be the traditional way of doing worship or teaching the Bible, but is a way and sometimes that’s all that we need – a way to start doing things. God will take care of the rest!


OmayraOmayra L. González- Méndez is news editor, movie lover and super passionate about the church. From media reports, pictures and videos, she takes every free minute to work in different organizations of the Presbyterian Church, both locally and internationally. As an elder in the Presbyterian Church in Hato Rey, she works with youth society and finance ministries. Omayra understands that all parts of the church are equally important. She will take a summer to sit and follow the committees of the General Assembly of the PCUSA, and fly the next day to lead recreation in a youth event. All matters of the church, processes and creation, fascinate her.

Being Shaped by the Body

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Steve Lindsley is curating reflections on a physical faith. How does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Rob McClellan

I was nervous the first time I tried it out at a men’s night at the church.  We had gathered to enjoy fellowship, to sing, to hear a speaker from the congregation, to engage in discussion and then… to practice body prayer. “One of these things is not like the other…” as they say.

Yet then it happened. As I led them through some simple motions, I looked up to see everyone, young and old, moving in concert, not a snicker in the room. There is something powerful about moving in prayer and doing so in community. I believe people are yearning to have faith with their whole selves not just their minds.

To learn a simple routine of body prayer, watch this video.

On paper, I’m a funny one to ask about physical faith. I have spent much of my life in the academy, relishing pursuits of the mind. I am keenly aware, however, that increasingly people enter the faith not because they have been convinced, but because they have been moved.

Rarely does anyone come to the church I serve looking to be told what to believe, and yet I found that many of the forms of ministry we offer are predominately focused on what occurs from the neck up — classes, sermon-centered worship, and intellectually stimulating discussion. Those forms are both meaningful and important. They are also not everything.

If our messages have grown more and more open in the church, then our forms ought to follow suit. We would do well to put just as much care into the art of ushering people into the experience of the sacred as we do into crafting good doctrine. Experiential ministry is a wonderful way to make room for the Spirit to work and play.

For these reasons, I am engaged in a Doctor of Ministry (DMin) project on pilgrimage, reframing this ancient practice for these new times. A lot happens when you walk in the Spirit. Conversations flow with ease between utter strangers. Thoughts and memories emerge with the gentle nudging between soil and foot. Singularity of intention leads to clarity of mind. Energy usually built up behind a desk is released, and with it all sorts of creativity pours out. The dividing walls between the sacred and the secular sweetly dissolve.

Two years ago, I went on an interfaith pilgrimage on the Camino in Spain. We shared in the practices of each other’s tradition and I was struck by how embodied the other traditions were. We have a lot to learn from them. Many of us spend too much time (not of our own choosing) shoring up our church buildings. What if the church gave equal attention to (and received surpassing joy from) the living temples that are our bodies?  

This spring, I return to the Camino, this time with members of my congregation. My job won’t be to teach them, or even to move them. The Spirit will take care of that.  I’ll just be there to show them the way.


Rob McRob McClellan, Pastor/Head of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon, CA, is married to The Rev. Sherri Hausser, has a 3 1/2 year old son, studies pilgrimage, and believes Christians “find God in nature” too.

A Physical Faith

by Steve Lindsley

My church was built in the 1950’s as an offshoot of Myers Park Presbyterian a few miles up the road. They built a gorgeous sanctuary that seats 700. They built not one but two classroom buildings that, to this day, contain the standard wooden tables and chairs we all know and love. We’re doing new things with our space these days because that’s what churches today are having to do. Our session recently voted to remove a few pews to the side of the pulpit in order to create a wonderful open area dedicated to music, and those classroom buildings are home to both a preschool and Philips Academy, a school for middle and high-school students with learning disabilities.

trinity pres energizersBut in a lot of ways our church is still like many: founded and built on the premise that encountering and engaging faith involves a lot of sitting and being still. Passive. Doing faith in our heads. One-way communication from pulpit or teacher. Faith received.

Now I’ll be the first to admit it: I could stand to slow down a bit. I’m in constant movement with my work in ministry, with my family, with all the obligations and responsibilities my life contains. There is an inherent, rich value in tranquility, especially as it pertains to growing in faith and connecting with the God who created us and loves us still.

Even so, it’s pretty obvious that there is a constant and consistent presence of movement in our faith tradition. The Israelites wandered for forty years. Jesus healed with his hands. Paul traveled all over. Ezekiel saw a vision of God on wheels. We are more than just the frozen chosen – we are on the move!

This June, the NEXT Church blog series will focus on ways people encounter spiritual growth through movement – everything from running to body prayer to energizers. We hope these blogs will elicit questions like: how does one practice a physical faith – inside or outside of the church? In what ways can we experience God through our bodies and our communities? And how does movement, of many forms, bind us to a deeper sense of spirituality?

It should be a fun month. Now it’s time to get up from my computer and take a walk. Gorgeous North Carolina day outside, and it’s calling my name.


Steve Spring 2015When he’s not being the senior minister of Trinity Presbyterian Church of Charlotte, or songwriting/gigging, or keynoting/leading music for various retreats and conferences, or blogging at thoughts-musings.com, or playing pick-up basketball with his two sons, or cheering on his beloved Panthers and Hornets, or watching music reality TV shows with his lovely wife, Steve Lindsley is probably sleeping.

Intergenerational Ministry: How Do We Know?

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Liz Perraud

I’m a big fan of relationships between and among generations. Especially in the church. I’m convinced these relationships are good for faith deepening, for serving others, and for all around healthy living. Likely it’s the way God intended for us to live (see Hebrews, Deuteronomy, the Psalms, Luke, Romans, 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 Timothy, 2 Timothy, Colossians, etc.). I imagine heaven is not a “siloed” experience in any way, shape or form. Here are articles from Holly Allen, John Roberto, Kara Powell, Search Institute and others about the importance of these relationships.

genon blogBut how do we know if a church is “intergenerational?” How can we tell that healthy cross-generational relationships exist and that we don’t just have multiple generations in the same building or even in the same room at the same time? If we believe these relationships are important, how are we intentional about growing and deepening them?

GenOn Ministries (our name made up from the word “generations”) has a tool that helps church leaders assess their current situation and vision how to go wider and deeper in bringing generations into relationship with one another—and so with God. We offer it at no cost in hopes that many churches will hold conversations about the transformation that happens when generations learn and grow together, and then plan to do so more effectively.

The Visioning Tool for Intergenerational Ministry has three sections with 19 factors representing the tangible characteristics that underlie a church’s ability to consistently build disciples through these relationships. Each factor is explained with sub statements and each section offers discussion questions and instructions for processing and then for planning.

First, interested leaders must identify whether the church is PURPOSEFUL. Is there a commitment and intentionality in bringing the generations together? There are four factors that indicate such purposefulness:

  1. Foundation of healthy Christian relationships
  2. Commitment to faith formation and growth
  3. All ages worshipping together
  4. Intergenerational mission and service

The tool defines each of these factors. Leaders discuss the benefits and challenges of each, describe a current “snap shot” of the church, and brainstorm stretching further.

It’s not enough to just say we want to be intergenerational, we’ve got to do something about it. Here’s the “rubber meets the road” time. Those gathered for the conversation examine whether the church is PRACTICAL about being intergenerational. There are nine factors to assess effectiveness in this area:

  1. Decision about when and where to be intergenerational
  2. Role of clergy
  3. Intentional process to invite people into ministry leadership
  4. Advocates for intergenerational ministry
  5. Number of adults involved in children’s and youth ministry
  6. Evaluation of best practices
  7. Experiences to both learn and practice faith
  8. Use of resources
  9. Support of parents

Church leaders are instructed to break down into small groups to review and discuss each PRACTICAL factor and then use a scale to score how well the church is currently doing. Discussion questions are offered to build on strengths and improve weaknesses.

The most important of all to assess is IMPACT. Does what we believe and what we implement make a difference in peoples’ lives? Are there signs of positive effects of being an intergenerational church? People of all ages have plenty of activities to keep busy. We need to be certain that what the church offers, encourages, and facilitates has deep meaning and significance in our walk with Christ. There are six factors that we believe are indicators of being IMPACTFUL:

  1. Observable intergenerational relationships based on Christ’s example
  2. Demonstrable spiritual growth in individuals’ commitment to Christ
  3. Worship engagement and leadership across generations
  4. Participation by people of all ages in mission and service
  5. Growth in number of participants over time
  6. Sustainable ministry through change

Discussion questions focus on specific observations of impact and brainstorming ways to demonstrate and encourage deeper relationships.

The Visioning Tool is a downloadable free resource from our website. GenOn Ministries’ mission and vision is for all faith communities to grow intergenerational relationships in order for all people to grow deeper in their relationship with God.


Liz PerraudLiz Perraud is Executive Director of GenOn Ministries. GenOn trains, resources, and supports churches in healthy growth through intergenerational ministry. Liz is also a ruling Elder at Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church (Columbia, MD) where she serves as the Christian Education Committee Chair and leads Bible study with middle schoolers at LOGOS.

Gathering at The WELL

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Arlene Decina

Just a few weeks ago we gathered for our first planning meeting for this, the fifth year of our multi-generational event called The WELL. A last-minute adjustment to our plans had the six of us meeting in the living room of a new member to the team. With napping children upstairs, this change in location made it possible for her to be with us, and us with her. Another friend, new to the team, brought along her almost-2-year-old who happily kept herself busy with an assortment of toys in this child-friendly home. Making space—sacred space—for one another regardless of age, or stage, or gender, or family configuration is what The WELL is all about.

well1Indeed, over the past four years, a wonderful mix of church family and friends—from ages 6 weeks to over 90, families and singles, youth and young adults—have attended this three-evening, retreat-style gathering.

We opened our meeting with a conversation around the question of what, for each of us, is most important about The WELL. Amid the changes that are inevitable, what is it that we hold dear and want to keep?

One person mentioned how she enjoyed the intentionality of the dinner seating—spending three nights sharing a meal with her table group and getting to know them on a deeper level.

Another recalled the multi-generational “Montreat-style” games at gathering time. “It was simple, but there was something for everyone … and it was okay to just stand around and talk.” “The Minute-to-Win-It” games at dinnertime were fun, too.”

Our conversation moved to what we would offer children during the after-dinner program. Those in middle school and older will remain with the larger group, but we heard affirmation that having separate activities for the younger children during this part of the evening was an important way to nurture parents. Finding adult leaders who know and love the children is key, but it also matters that we give our year-long, regular teaching staff a breather. They need to be refreshed as well.

well2We talked about the importance of play, and what it means to engage in play that is genuine. A newcomer to the group asked, “Is the purpose of all of this to have quality time together among the generations?” In unison we answered, “Yes!” to which she replied, “It’s like having Rainbow [our midweek Logos program] for three days in a row!” “It’s about making memories as a church family,” another chimed in, recalling this seed that was the inspiration of The WELL from the start.

Several spoke with fondness about the evening vespers, when we all gather in closing for blessings, prayers and goodbyes.

The WELL is mostly about hospitality—about being the church with and for one another.

All are welcome!

We gather for a potluck supper for our next planning meeting!

To learn more about The WELL, please read our first blog post about it.


decinaArlene Decina is the Director of Spiritual Growth Ministries at Burke Presbyterian Church in Northern Virginia.

Sharing the Piece of Christ

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Gretchen Sausville

“It’s all about the bread!” – Jack, age 14

“No, it’s all about the brownies!” – Kim, age 14

“If brownies were around in Jesus time, he would have been breaking and sharing them!” – Maisie – 15

“Why do we need bread, when we have a bowl of brownies right here, and hot cocoa over there… this is our understanding of communion!”  – Tim age 16.

2015 communionI was 7 years into my call, and my Princeton trained ears perked up. I began reconciling the teachings of my beloved professors and the interpretation of communion through teenagers eyes. I had been classically trained in the formalities of the bread and cup, using the elements that were local to the community gathered. I was also taught that that pop and popcorn does not a Lord’s Supper make, but had anyone ever really considered brownies? Luckily for my purposes I had received session approval for this “communion meal.” I left it to the youth of my church to plan worship using their own interpretation of traditional practices, as I have always done with youth retreats. After all, communion led by youth on a retreat is not really communion, right?

The next day they were pleased with their worship service, which embraced music, scripture, sermon, prayers, and the most important piece in their eyes, brownie communion! They had spent the better half of a day planning it, and it was a perfect 30 minutes. Then Maisie said, “It’s not like they would actually let us do any of this in church, like church church. 8:30 maybe, but definitely not 10:30!”

My heart sank! These young adults had just created and led worship, using all the same pieces they see in the sanctuary on Sunday, but felt their expression of theology would not be accepted or permitted by the congregation they were exploring membership in. This is when I challenged them. If they could tell me what they wanted in worship on a given Sunday and the theology behind why they would do it differently, then they could speak knowledgeably and confidently to to session about the possibility of brownies for communion.

Soon, their fears were replaced with smiles, and I had an arsenal of information to take to session of worship and music committee. Six weeks later, after they were confirmed, we passed the “piece of Christ” in response to the rite of Confirmation. The confirmands came to the communion table and took the over flowing plates of brownies they had made and passed them out to the congregation in worship, as an act of worship. It was sweet and spirited, and enjoyed by all. There were no complaints to be had, only requests from the octogenarians to do that more often!

The brownies on Pentecost four years ago led to a shift in how we welcome not only young ones, but everyone into the worship life of the church. The brownies on Sunday lead to “Hearty Feasts” being prepared for certain communion Sundays. A hearty feast table is filled with fruits and nuts, honey and olives, sweet and savory breads, including brownies, and drinks of all kinds. At the table generations mingle together, speaking and sharing and eating the sweet and savory pieces of life.

We have moved our Fat Tuesday pancakes to Ash Wednesday so that we may break bread together and share communion around tables as an act of worship. Maundy Thursday has become a service of communion at one continuous triclinium table. It is not a seder, but a simple service, around a simple meal rooted in sacrament and scripture. Liturgy is said, prayers are prayed, bellies are filled, and God is glorified.

We still hold the traditions of generations passed and generations present together. We have also found balance, giving ears and voice to the younger generations, the reformers of the future. The shift has brought forth new language in the liturgies of baptism, communion, and confirmation based on our congregation’s understanding of ancient words for a modern day. A thesaurus has become a welcomed and well used addition to my book shelf.

Worship has the power to unite us, and when we focus on the community, the communion with one another and God comes naturally. Jesus had bread and wine, we do too.  We also have brownies and hot cocoa; pancakes and orange juice; and challah and merlot. The same God is glorified through all.


gretchen sausvilleGretchen N. Sausville serves as Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in West Hartford, CT.  A graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, she is passionate about preaching and creative worship, helping people think about faith outside the box, and developing interfaith conversations and partnerships between Presbyterian and Jewish communities.  When not at work she is often performing on stage, traveling abroad with her backpack, cooking, or practicing yoga. Gretchen lives in West Hartford with her puppy, Beaken, and blogs at thestandbyetraveler.com.

I’m a Cradle Presbyterian

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Eli McCulloch Cappel

On a crisp Sunday morning in November, learners gathered in the adult education classroom at Christ Presbyterian Church. Set-up around the room were stations with computers, cell phones, and tablets equipped with microphones and recording apps. There were tables with scrapbooks and old directories as well as other activities that encouraged learners to reflect on their faith journey. As 9:30 approached, the interviewers took their places. Some could read, some could not. Some knew their interviewee, others had no relationship at all. All the interviewers were under the age of 12 and shared the same task, to learn the story of another in the Christ Presbyterian Church family. Interviews began with introductory questions, “What is your name? When were you born? Where were you born?” and then made the shift to personal stories. Interviewees were asked about their early church memories, who attended church with them, what their favorite Bible story was as a child, and finally, what they remember about becoming a part of the Christ Presbyterian Church family.  The questions were prescribed. The answers were sometimes cliche and predictable, but something meaningful happened in the in between.  Through the simple act of listening, relationships began to form between the least likely, the oldest and the youngest in the congregation.

image00 image00 (1)CrossGen (intergenerational) events at Christ Presbyterian Church, like the one just described, put into practice the idea that no matter our stage in life, we all have gifts to share. CrossGen events are designed to encourage children, parents, and older adults to learn and grow in a variety of ways, building relationships through education. These events are planned but not scripted. Organized but not inflexible. CrossGen events at their heart, intergenerational ministry at its heart, encourages each of us to see people. To engage in activities and conversation with individuals whom we share more differences than similarities. While CrossGen events occur largely within the four walls of the church, the lessons learned reach far beyond.

Jane is four years old. Elizabeth is eighty-seven years old. Together they talked…

Jane: What is a memory you have of CPC?

Elizabeth: Can I tell you two? One time one of my daughters got married – she got married right in the morning church service after the 11 o’clock and then a committee of women, my friends, had a wonderful reception right out there in the lawn, it was August and we had a brunch and a beautiful wedding cake – we had a ball. That was a happy happy time. And then another memory I have is when something sad happened to me – when my daughter died, my husband died, or when I got sick – someone was always there to help me feel better – and that’s why this is a family – and it’s yours Jane.

Moments after this conversation Jane was overheard saying, “I can go ask Elizabeth for you, she’s my friend.”

In a culture that preaches difference and divide, CrossGen events begin to lay the foundation for the forming of relationships that bridge the gaps. Think for a moment of your own community – what places, what organizations encourage the youngest among you to form relationships with the oldest? Where are relationships formed that bring meaning and give purpose to the lives of those they touch?

Intergenerational ministry isn’t a radical new idea. It’s not something just dreamt up. But it’s spotlight is a call to each of us to think intentionally about the spaces we provide for people to be seen as people. To put our -isms, our stances, and our judgments aside – to build-up rather than tear down. To look for a minute into the eyes of another, to listen to their story without interjecting our own, and to grow together as the body of Christ.


Elizabeth (Eli) McCulloch Cappel Elizabeth (Eli) McCulloch Cappel enjoys coloring with the toddlers, laughing with the teens, and sitting with the young at heart as Director of Christian Education at Christ Presbyterian Church in Camp Hill, PA. Molded by the relationships made in Central Pennsylvania, at Presbyterian College, and at Union Presbyterian Seminary, Eli hopes to pass along her love of learning through relationship to her two daughters as they begin their own journeys.

Fellowship and Worship as Messy Church

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, Ellen Crawford True is curating reflections on intergenerational ministry. What does it look like for the church to do and be church together? What does it feel like to understand ourselves as vital parts of the body? What can it mean to seek to be faithful as children of God together, no matter what comes next? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Suzie Gerrard Fletcher

Five years ago, I moved to a rural charge with three United congregations in the Church of Scotland.  The Sunday School as was had ceased to function during the vacancy, and soon after I arrived, it was decided we would try and do something completely different: Messy Church. An interested group of folk gathered for a training course and three months later held our first Messy Church. It is a great opportunity for people of all ages to worship together, and to create a sense of belonging. Broadly based around fellowship, it is both a fun and creative way to introduce people to Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship. And, to share together in a meal, which for many families and churches, is a rare occasion in this day and age.

Messy Church is its original form is a fresh expression of church that began in a Anglican church in Portsmouth as a way of being church for people who don’t do traditional church, for whatever reason. It is a church of all ages… and lots of churches have picked up on the idea and been able to adapt it for their own situations, both in the UK and overseas. It has grown and estimates are that well over 500,000 people belong to Messy Church, and that number is growing all the time. A typical session includes an introduction, crafts, a celebration (worship) and a hot meal.

In our situation, we have a craft leader and worship leader (myself), and should have had a catering team. We generally meet on the same Sunday from 4-6pm in the afternoon every month (some do it on a weekday or Saturday). There’s a brief introduction to the theme as folk are gathering and then everyone is let loose to go and explore eight different activities which help to tell the story in different ways. The emphasis is on crafts, being sure there is something for all ages and genders, and the adults come alongside and take part whilst lending a hand to younger children. We have a person at each table (ages ranging from teenagers to the elderly) to help explain how their activities relate to the story.

After about an hour, we call everyone to the front of the hall, as our hall is separate to the Church itself, and have a time of singing songs, telling the Bible story in a creative way, a participatory prayer and Messy Grace (blessing done in a circle), before we line up to share in a meal which we serve around one large circle of tables because our numbers allow for that.  The materials used are very helpful in organising each session.  

About half of those who come have/had some loose connection to church, whilst the other half have not. For most of these families, Messy Church is church and apart from special services, they do attend on Sunday morning, and after education of the elders aren’t expected to.  This sort of fellowship is new and different more many in the UK, and it is wonderful to see God at work in generations of people who might otherwise have never known much of the faith.

Messy Church is enabled, resourced and supported by BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship), a registered charity, as one of its core ministries.


suzie fletcherSuzie Garrard Fletcher is a parish minister in the Church of Scotland, where she serves a united charge of three small rural congregations. She graduated from Presbyterian College in 1996 and has a dual degree (M Div and MA in Christian Education) from Union Theological Seminary and Presbyterian School of Christian Education, as was, and went to Scotland for a year, but she and her husband loved it so much she applied for admission to the Church of Scotland and has been working in Scotland since her ordination in 2001. They have three small children, with another on the way, and enjoy family life in a small village on the North Sea, with the convenience of the beautiful historic and cultural city of Edinburgh, just forty miles away.