Ministry Across the Generations
General Assembly 2009 Event 3004
UU University Multigenerational Track, Part II
On the second and final day of this track, the first morning session “Draw the Circle Wide: Paths to Healing” began with an affirmation of the community-building nature of story at global as well as personal levels. Religious communities were identified as the few places left in this culture where we have the opportunity for meaningful interactions and relationships across the generations.
This session described some uses of “huddles”—groups of affinity and age cohorts as well as “mixes”—multiage, multicultural groups. Although the track addresses multigenerational initiatives, there is value in supporting huddles where doing so does not exclude multigenerational opportunities. Pastoral needs often surface in huddles, and opportunities for deep connection and learning can be encountered there.
Robin Barazza, religious educator from First Parish, Milton, Massachusetts, spoke from her experience in building a congregational culture of children’s worship and in the practical aspects of creating that form of worship in a developmentally accessible manner. Ms. Barazza described the rationale and selling points of that model underscoring the role of church in the lives of children. She asked the rhetorical question, “How can we create life-long Unitarian Universalists (UUs) if we keep them cut off from the worshiping community, the central life of our congregations?”
Religious educator Dorothy Pomeroy advocated for children’s worship in the late 1930’s at the First Parish in Milton. Pomeroy wrote: “Children do not need more school on Sunday, children need a place to pray, a place to sing, a place to be quiet.” Barazza added, “today we can say: nor do children need any more entertainment and stimulation”—children are already over-booked, over-programmed and over-exposed to incessant information. Children and youth need a place to be quiet, to be inspired, and to wrestle with universal questions, whatever their age. Barazza challenged the message inherent in limiting children to acquiring content on Sunday morning while the adults get to be quiet and pray. In addition, children’s church creates lifelong church stewards.
Today First Parish in Milton designs worship for a hybrid group, somewhere between a huddle and a mix. All ages of children grades 1-12 are invited to participate as chalice lighters, musicians, readers, ushers, homilists and congregants. Barazza asks, “If we can’t get children to be with each other across age divides, how, then, can we have them engage the work of a multicultural world community?” Or in the words of Dorothy Pomeroy, “Age segregation makes for a terribly dull society.”
The segment closed with a video testimonial from eight year old Ava, originally delivered in the children’s church during the congregation’s annual stewardship campaign, at the same time similar testimony was given by adults in the main chapel. Our children rise to the level of the bar held up for them, Barazza noted.
The next testimonial was from a young adult, Greg Buckland, speaking about his experiences as a member of an over-worked, often isolated age group, and of the comfort he found in the humanizing presence of a multiage community when he found his way to church on Sunday mornings.
The final testimonial was from youth leader Victoria Mitchell, representing an age where the core identity question of “Who am I?” looms large. She stated that the answers to this question come through interactions including with family, friends, school, the media; answers are created through ministering to each other, listening, disagreement, social justice work, meaningful work, fun and socializing, putting on an event, sharing life experiences, and making space for the questions to be asked. She added that this core identity question is not limited to youth, but is relevant to all ages, in a life long negotiation and revaluation of ones self.
After a brief reflection the group was invited into an intentional conversation—deep speaking and deep listening—with each other. When attention once again returned to the speakers, the group heard a story from the Gaelic myths of Fionn mac Cumhaill. Storyteller Gail Forsyth-Vail described contemporary applications of the values presented in the story. As with Fionn’s story, the ones best suited to raise a warrior are the grannies and aunts—our multigenerational communities. In myth as well as reality, Forsyth-Vail said, a warrior must learn to hurl a poem before they can learn to hurl a spear.
The final track session, “Somebody’s Calling My Name, Recognizing the Gifts of Ministry,” invited the participants to—through a variety of means—learn in community. The Reverend Michelle Favreault tossed out the script and advised others to be prepared to do likewise as they implement multigenerational worship. She advised the group to expect mistakes as well as miracles, and to expect multigenerational planning to take twice as long as segregated planning does. And finally she urged trust in the community, the presence of spirit and the innate ability of each other. She asked the group to share their questions and insights with each other, recognizing that lived experiences inform our practices as much as pedagogy does
An invitation to remove shoes and socks was followed by a reflection in story and message from Exodus. As Moses encountered God in the burning bush in that story, the speaker said, we, too, encounter the ineffable, listening for the voice of spirit calling us forth to bless the world in our own unique ministries. This UU University track culminated in a water blessing, where participants, many moved to tears, received an anointing of water with this blessing “May this water remind you of your connection to all living beings and may you forth and bless the would with your ministry.”
Reported by Rebecca Kelley-Morgan; edited by Jone Johnson Lewis.