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.
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 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.