I used to think that being an intergenerational church meant replacing Sunday school with an intergenerational curriculum or adding a monthly all-ages event to the church calendar. What I’ve come to understand is that there is a big difference between “doing” intergenerational and “becoming” intergenerational. Programs are important; through them, relationships are often formed, but being an intergenerational church is about belonging.
The denomination to which I belong practices infant baptism, but there are times when we also experience the joy of witnessing the baptism of a child, teen or adult who has come to follow Jesus. Such was the case with Vivian, a young adult in our congregation.
On the day of Vivian’s baptism, the pastor invited her to come forward and tell the congregation her story. Everyone - babies to retirees - was present and she had our full attention as she shared how growing up in Hong Kong she had been enrolled in a Christian school by her unbelieving parents and how years later, after moving to Canada, her faith was nurtured in the relationship she had with her boyfriend and through the friendships she’d made with older adults in our congregation. It was a powerful story of God at work.
And now it was time to celebrate God’s faithfulness through the sacrament of baptism. Vivian and the pastor had decided that this milestone called for a big visual so rather than sprinkling water from the baptismal bowl over Vivian’s head, the pastor planned to pour water from a pitcher. What happened next took my breath away.
“Kids! We need your help!” said the pastor. “I’ve got a tarp to cover the floor. Can some of your spread it out?” Several kids rushed forward and began unrolling the tarp. “Who can get the towels? Can you carry the table to the tarp and put the bowl of water and the towels on it? And can you stand all around the tarp and hold it in place?” And they did. With smiles and giggles and amazement, they did it all.
With wide eyes, they watched with the rest of God’s family - their family, the church - as the pastor picked up the pitcher of water, poured it over Vivian’s head and baptized her in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Then the pastor invited all those who wished to do so to surround Vivian and to pray for her. The children moved in tighter and were joined by young and old. Just before the prayer began I saw 5-year-old Nathan look up at Vivian and whisper, “May I hold your hand?”
The following week during Sunday school - one of my favorite places to form relationships with the children in my church - I asked if anyone could remember the special thing that had happened the previous Sunday. “Yes!” said Meaghan, “We baptized Vivian!”
Being an intergenerational church is about shaping a culture in which all ages belong and are known and have opportunities to learn and grow, serve and worship together.
At InterGenerate, I’ll be facilitating a workshop on storytelling. I’m looking forward to telling some stories, but mostly I’m looking forward to hearing stories and learning from the experiences of those who will be attending the conference: people from a variety of denominations who have been at work forming an intergenerational culture in their own church, those who have been researching intergenerational faith formation practices, those who have just begun to dream about what it might look like to be more intentionally intergenerational in their context. People like you.
See you there.