|From the book "Change the World for Ten Bucks," By the UK
organization We are What We Do.
There is one couple in our congregation whom he grew up calling “grandma” and “grandpa” just as easily as he refers to his actual grandparents. One Sunday on our way home from church when I asked him something about Grandma Jean he asked, “How come I call her grandma when she is not actually my grandmother?”
We had a lovely talk about what makes someone a grandmother beyond their blood relation - that it takes a lot of love and care and thoughtfulness. I told him stories of when I was pregnant with him, and his Grandma Jean helped to take care of me and support me, how she came to our house with another dear friend to help me sort through all of the gifts that we had been given to see if we had all of the right things to be ready to welcome a new baby to our lives.
“So,” I said, “she does all of the things that a grandma does and she loves you the same way a grandma loves you. That’s why we call her Grandma.”
My son has a variety of relationships like this at church, with folks who keep up with his eclectic interests, who are willing to listen to him share about his latest game or book or toy, and who are fierce advocates for him as my husband and I struggle with all of the normal things that come with parenting a child.
I have written before here and here about the ways that I see community being strengthened and faith fed through intergenerational relationships and how at the same time our lives are increasingly shifting away from opportunities to create these kinds of lasting relationships.
Just this fall my congregation has started an experiment to intentionally create these kinds of relationships between adults and children by matching folks together in intergenerational prayer partnerships.
Here is how it is supposed to work, and what we have done so far:
First, we had a passionate group of adults who wanted to find creative ways to better connect with young people and children in the church. Then we asked folks to volunteer to be a partner to a child in our church, and we asked parents to sign their own children up to be a part of this journey as well. (As with everything we do involving children, we implemented this program in accordance with our safe child policy.)
Interestingly, we had a pretty even group of folks sign up and are starting our first wave of partnerships with about 16 pairs. Here are the suggestions we gave them as they started this journey together:
· Sharing your prayer joys and concerns on a regular basis
· Checking in with each other through phone calls, notes (everyone loves to get mail!) or even checking in with each other on Sunday morning
· Occasionally sitting together in worship on Sunday morning
· Making an effort to participate together as partners in church-wide activities (Advent Festival, potlucks, Lenten worship)
· Having lunch together after church on an occasional Sunday
· Extending hospitality to each other’s families by inviting your partner for a meal in your home
· Remembering one another in times of illness or surgery
While this program is intended to be something that is driven by the partners themselves, we took time this past Sunday to help give them a little kick-start in forming these new relationships.
They ate lunch together, served by parents who were thrilled to be able to pass off their children to other adults for an hour, and then spent time chatting about the things that they would like to be in prayer for each other about over the next few months.
We are all very excited to see how this experiment takes off, and are receiving more names of folks who want to be paired up. And I am hearing stories told by parents, children and partners of how these relationships are already affecting the prayer lives of our children: phone calls to check in with each other, asking classmates and teachers to be in prayer for their partner, cards being mailed back and forth, and even the prompting of memories of folks’ own children who have long since grown up.
I myself was a beneficiary as a child of many loving relationships with adults in my church, and I look back now very fondly on the ways that adults intentionally engaged me as a friend even when I was young. The fruit of these relationships, that I am only now able to understand, is that these folks who are 30-40 years my senior are still friends and confidants now that I am an adult.
It is my prayer as their pastor that the relationships we have started this fall will last just as long and be just as important in the lives of both children and adults.