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Gathering as One conference ends in hope

Preacher Rodger Nishioka grateful for the work of camp and conferences leaders exploring intergenerational ministry

by Paul Seebeck | Presbyterian New Service

The Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka preaches during closing worship at the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Center Association’s online conference, Gathering as One. (Screen shot)

LOUISIVLLE — During the Gathering as One online conference of the Presbyterian Church Camp and Conference Association (PCCCA), leaders from around the United States and Canada explored how to enhance intergenerational connections in their outdoor ministries, where everyone — young participants, adults, families and entire church communities — could learn together through a shared faith experience.

During closing worship on Thursday, the Rev. Dr. Rodger Nishioka, director of Adult Educational Ministries and senior associate pastor at Village Presbyterian Church in Prairie Village, Kansas, encouraged conference attendees to build on the work they’d done.

“I’m so grateful because I believe that you can show the rest of us most clearly what it means to do intergenerational ministry,” he said. “And when we are together across the generations, we find new sources of hope — which we so need in these days.”

Then Nishioka told the story of Calvin Presbyterian Church in Ocala, Florida, a church in the Presbytery of St. Augustine. Aging and no longer needing all their pews, the congregation removed the last rows from the back of the church, replacing the pews with rocking chairs. They were a huge hit, Nishioka said, especially for some of the older adults who had back challenges.

One Sunday a young couple came in with an infant and toddler. When they first laid eyes on the rocking chairs, they instantly thought, “Oh my goodness! This church is for us,” Nishioka said. And they sat down in those chairs.

“Thank you, Jesus,” Nishioka said, “that no older adult came up them and said, ‘Excuse me, you’re in my rocking chair.’”

Instead, as the couple rocked back and forth — one holding the infant, the other with a lap full of toddler — older adults begin to gather around them. As they introduced themselves and welcomed the visitors, one older adult reached out, “and sure enough,” Nishioka said, “the woman gave the baby over.”

One of the pastors at Calvin told Nishioka how much fun it was watching the baby travel from chair to chair to chair. As it turned out, the couple loved being with the older adults. Some of their children’s grandparents had died, and others were living far from Florida. The family had just moved to Ocala and was looking for a church home.

“Lo and behold, the Holy Spirit provided them with a whole raft of grandparents,” Nishioka said.

This young couple told another couple who had just moved into the neighborhood about the church. That couple came as well — with their infant — which led to renewal in that congregation, with older adults and grandparents caring for new grandkids.

“May the God of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the God of hope fill us with all understanding in these days,” Nishioka said.

Referencing Romans 15:1-3, the text from which he preached, Nishioka concluded his message with these words:

“Friends, the invitation is this, that we who are powerful would share the Good News with those who have no power or less power — not for ourselves, but because of Jesus Christ, who himself was the powerless, the least powerful, who showed us what it means to live a life glorifying God. May this God fill us with joy and understanding, so that we may live as one.”

One of the conference workshops highlighted the Intergenerational Retreat Curriculum, which was produced by a partnership among the PC(USA) Office of Christian Formation, GenOn Ministries and PCCCA. Christian Formation Coordinator Stephanie Fritz said those who have interest should reach out to camps in their area and ask about partnering on an intergenerational retreat.

 Fritz also said that Thursday was “Black Lives Matter at Camp Day of Action.” An article called “White is the Default at Camp: Let’s Work to Change That” by Sarah Kurtz McKinnon was shared as a way of calling all camps to begin or continue the work of dismantling white supremacy culture at camps.

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