Blending Age Groups for Intergenerational Church

By Donald E. Skinner

We see them under our coffee cups at social hour. They are the little people darting around our kneecaps. Or they are the teenagers and young adults lurking on the edges of our congregational gatherings. We see them but we don't always have much to do with them, busy as we are with our own conversations and obligations.

But the mark of a well-rounded congregation is whether all age groups feel at home and freely mix. If your congregation feels dominated by one age group and you'd like to change that, consider the following:

The First Unitarian Universalist (UU) Church, Rochester, MN (288 members), holds a game night—from bridge to Trivial Pursuit—to bring young and old together. The congregation also holds an annual campout on Memorial Day weekend, including a talent show. "We have cabins so a wider range of folks show and it's really fun to see all the ages mix," said Beth Atkinson, Rochester president. "Adults talk to children they might not know and everyone looks out for them and it is sort of like an extended family."

Valentine Secret Pal programs and mentoring of Coming of Age youth provide one-time opportunities for interaction. "I have found it to be a really special way to get to know at least one child and I feel especially connected to each of the children who were my Secret Pals these three years that we have done it," said Kathy Jens-Rochow, president of the UU Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL (171).

At the UU Church in Cambridge, UK (90), the "Sunday Club," aka childrens' religious education, challenges the rest of the church to an annual cricket match. "It's a lovely social event when the sport isn't taken too seriously," says Martin Gienke. There is also a Christmas orchestra for young and old.

Many congregations include children in worship services as greeters, ushers, candle lighters, readers and musicians. Cindy Spring, Religious Education (RE) program consultant for the New Hampshire/Vermont District, recommends oral histories as a way to bring young and old together. Appropriate for fifth grade and up, the histories honor older folks and help youth learn about life. Do it one on one, rather than in a group.

When it grew to more than three hundred members, the Horizon UU Church in Carrollton, TX (325), divided into family groups of twenty to twenty-five people. Each group, from children to seniors, plans its own social activities and cares for members in crisis.

Social justice projects can also span the ages. First UU Church in Ann Arbor, MI (545), hosts a rotating homeless shelter. Older youth help set up beds and make dinner and whole families come and help serve and share dinners.

An annual "unbirthday party" brings the generations together at the UU Church of Montpelier, VT (170). Set up twelve tables, each with an undecorated cake. Participants sit at the table that represents their birthday month. They bring thematic materials and together they decorate the cake in the style of their month while sharing the good and bad points of having a birthday in, say, December. "It's pretty easy to do," said Tadd Morton, Directior of Religious Education. "I was expecting a dozen people and we had sixty. I think the secret was low preparation and high sugar content."

About the Author

Donald E. Skinner

Donald E. Skinner was the founding editor of the InterConnections newsletter for congregational leaders and a senior editor of UU World from 1998 until his retirement in 2014. He is a member of the Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Lenexa, Kansas.

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