Relationships across different generations are important in the church and in our communities. Increasingly, however, it seems like there are fewer opportunities for people of different ages to spend time together. Our communities can become segregated by age when our kids are in school and our elderly are in retirement communities or health care facilities. We may even develop harmful stereotypes about different age groups like teenagers or older adults. We know though that these relationships are meaningful, and I wonder how we can foster connections between people.
In my own life, when I was a young child, I had an adopted grandma at church named Clara. She was a widow in her 70s, but she took the time to get to know me. Clara remembered important things about me like my birthday and would listen to my stories. I would often walk over to Clara’s when I got bored at home or when I thought I needed a cookie.
When my family moved to a different town, Clara let me plant a tree in her backyard. Each time I came back to visit, she would take a picture of me next to the tree to show how much I had grown. The year before her death, Clara came to my wedding at the age of 98. She told me that day that she had been praying for me and was so happy that I had decided to go to seminary. Perhaps you have your own story of intergenerational friendship.
Intergenerational relationships can benefit everyone – children, youth, adults, elders, and whole communities. For example, the Intergenerational Center at Temple University reports that children and youth who were involved in intergenerational settings had improved self-esteem, improved involvement and behavior at school, and a greater understanding of their own history and context. Older adults reported enhanced life satisfaction, decreased isolation, and new skills from their interactions with young people. When generations learn from one another, families are supported and communities can grow stronger and more collaborative.
Churches seem to have a special opportunity to help foster intergenerational relationships in our communities. On a Sunday, you might see a 5 year-old and a 90 year-old sitting in the same pew. In my story, Clara was my friend from church, and she nurtured me in the faith. Every age of life has its own challenges, but every age also has its gifts. God calls us into relationships with people of all ages so that we might support and learn from one another. As Jesus says in John 13:35, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” I believe God calls us to be in community with people of all ages and to love them. We need each other through all of life’s seasons.
Note: This post originally appeared in the Brodhead Free Press and the Independent Register as part of their weekly “Pastor’s Corner” column.