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Creating a ‘contagious community’


Workshop shows how to put on an intentional intergenerational church event

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Thursday’s workshop on intergenerational community-building included play time around the table. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

LOUISVILLE — Rather than talk about intergenerational church gatherings, Liz Perraud demonstrated one during a Thursday workshop at the national gathering of the Presbyterian Older Adult Ministries Network, which concludes Friday in the Laws Lodge Conference Center on the campus of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Perraud, executive director of GenOn Ministries, set out cheese-flavored crackers and pitchers of water and asked a server at each of three decorated tables to begin serving in order to facilitate conversation around the tables.

That began a truncated version of what GenOn Ministries calls Sunday LIFT, for Living in Faith Together. Designed to gather at least two generations around the table, Sunday LIFT includes breaking bread, studying God’s Word, playing and then praying together, and enjoying a time called blessings and benefits.

“We long for intergenerational relationships,” Perraud said, noting that the earliest church attendees met in homes to pray, worship, break bread, learn and fellowship alongside believers of all ages.

The 18 workshop participants read and discussed Matthew 14:13-21, the story of Jesus and the disciples feeding more than 5,000 people. Among the discussion-starters: Imagine how the disciples might have provided enough food. Has God ever given you more than you needed? What might Jesus have had the disciples do with the leftovers?

Playing together involved decorating a paper fish to tell a little something about oneself, then sharing that information around the table.

“I can imagine this for people of all ages,” one workshop participant said. “It’s a little messy, but that’s OK.”

“I learned through play,” said another. “I learned more about people’s idiosyncratic nature than through more formal conversation.”

A must for creating an intergenerational community is a time for breaking bread and chatting. (Photo by Mike Ferguson)

“When we were eating, there was no agenda,” said a third. “We could just talk.”

Churches have found a number of settings for this kind of intergenerational time together, Perraud said, including fellowship time following worship, a Wednesday night meal together, as part of church potlucks and in members’ homes.

Perraud asked workshop attendees to brainstorm the benefits for bringing generations together using a method like Sunday LIFT. Among the responses: It brings about different perspectives, languages and terms that don’t easily cross over to different generations; it’s one of the few times and places for generations to come together; it helps break down stereotypes; it’s fun to have a good time; it’s a new way to hear the gospels; and it’s a chance to see people who might otherwise be hidden away.

“It does combat loneliness,” Perraud said. “It gives a sense of belonging to all, teens and older people alike.”

The process “takes practice, intentionality and time,” she said. “We believe this is a new way of being the church. Most people are resistant to change, so we invite them to dip a toe in to realize it’s not just for the children. We need them to realize that it’s worth their time.”

“This model grew out of the early church,” she said. “It was a contagious community then, and we believe it can do the same thing today.”

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