In these days of generational segregation, the church offers us a rare opportunity for building community between the young and people of age. It is natural for children and older people to have their own times of gathering to cultivate their individual sacred cultures. Yet, there is much to be gained by allowing each of these groups to intermingle and share their mutual spiritual journeys.
Several years ago my uncle, who is a pastor, told me about a program he had cultivated to celebrate legacy in his congregation. His ideas offer an inspiring opportunity for us to build bridges over the gorge of generational division.
In his church, there was some struggle as new ideas were cultivated and began building for the future. Experiments in worship often left older folk feeling forgotten or left out. As his congregation “transitioned” from one generation to another, the idea of recognizing with gratitude and affirmation the ones that had worked and served the church so faithfully became a great opportunity.
Crafting a service of remembrance and thanksgiving, he emphasized the privilege of service as a foundational concept. Honoring the service of the older members, the young adopted an older member and interviewed them to learn about his or her life and gain an appreciation of their journey.
Senior adults provided pictures of themselves at the same age as their young interviewers. Without informing the adults of the final product, the youth began to gather articles from the past that connected with the early part of their lives. These items were to be part of the visual décor of a “celebration of service” which was to be held in the fellowship hall of the church. Mule yokes, butter churns, rocking chairs, war memorabilia (many were veterans), old signs and magazines, and other items that brought back an older time.
With so much stuff collected, it was like entering a great nostalgia museum, immersing the people as they entered the hall in reminders of the past. A concerted effort was made to engage all the senses, and a meal was served based on menus and favorites from yesteryear. Music from their era was played during dinner. Sentimental Journey, Let Me Call You Sweetheart, I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover, etc. (the style of music should be be altered according to the age of the honorees).
As part of the program there was a time of sharing memories from the older folk, and they talked about early worship meetings that were held under brush arbors and autumn services that were centered around the crops and their harvest. A table filled with pictures of saints who had passed was assembled along with old church directories and bulletins.
Research discovered an ancient communion bread recipe, and old vine grapes from the country side yielded muscadine wine for the celebration. Old hymns were sung, and at the height of the service the young people went to their “adopted” seniors and washed their hands in a ritual reflecting Christ’s example of foot washing at the last supper. The youth were profoundly impacted by this moment, and the older folks bonded with the young in a heartfelt way. The entire service was bathed in the spirit of the fellowship and the bonds of respect and love.
A program booklet of these things were put together along with pics and bios of the members as a keepsake and a reminder of this amazing time of remembrance and celebration.
There are so many variations of this ritual possible. I hope that this one realization might energize a conversation about the ways we can reach across the great divide of generational indifference and find unity in the bonds of our shared faith.
Check out these anthems that are a walk down memory lane!