Multigenerational Ministry in an Age of Physical Distancing

Large open book embedded in a pastoral scene with tree, chair and sunset
Evin Carvill Ziemer holding a door open wearing a robe and stole

Rev. Evin Carvill-Ziemer

As a parent of young children, the idea of staying home with my kids for two weeks makes me think: severe cabin fever.

Selfishly, I began wondering how our congregations can help. I mean, really, there would be days a five minute Facetime call with my six year old so someone else can hear all about her fish tank and how much she loves her fish would help save my sanity.

And then as the CDC advised older people and those with health risks to start staying home now, I began thinking of people I love who will face weeks of little in person social contact. I texted one of them. He wrote at one point: “This isn’t just quarantine ourselves for two weeks like we are sick. This is quarantine ourselves forever until this goes away?” Right, or until there’s a vaccine.

Already religious professionals are talking about how to do worship online and small group ministry online and even helping folks learn how to use Zoom.

But I’m going a step further—how can the generations in our congregations help each other, connect, play, feel less isolated? Even if our school isn’t cancelled, we’ll be spending a lot more time at home. And both my children understand being bored—and would want to help other people we know and love not be bored. They love doing drawings or recording videos for people. So, if my kids will probably spend more time than I want in front of a screen, what if that was a way they were connecting with the adults they know from our church? And a way for those adults to spend a little time playing instead of engrossed in adult worries?

Below is a list of ideas brainstormed with religious educators online. My suggestion is to create a Facebook group specifically for multigenerational connection so this isn’t a new volunteer or staff job, but something the community can self organize. And then share this post there!

Internet safety for minors is a real concern. Here are some guidelines to following Safe Congregations policies in this setting: unrelated adults and minors should never message one on one without a parent or religious professional copied on the message. Having communication in a Facebook group makes this much easier and the parents can help organize their children’s activities and will be aware of what their children are doing. Video calls and online are similar--parents are responsible for supervising their children just like at coffee hour. Video calls and games should happen at a place like the kitchen table rather than alone in a room. Finally, create a covenant that material shared in the online group won’t be shared. Especially pictures and videos of minors.

Brainstorm—not all of these ideas will work for every congregation, but hopefully they’ll get your own creativity started!

  • Not-so-secret Friends: Pair families with folks stuck at home and encourage them to find ways to interact, play, and stay in touch.
  • Story time. Maybe a chapter a day during “rest” if children are home from school? Or bedtime with the DRE? Do you have any adults stuck at home who love to read? They can even find books through their local library on Overdrive. You could do this as Facebook live on your Facebook page or through zoom or just recording a video and uploading it to your private group. Check copyright info first here.
  • Play some games! Have someone organize an all ages online Dungeon and Dragons game. Or invite each other to your favorite games you already play. (Parents can share information on which are safer). Try board games arena. You can even check out some board gamesyou probably haven’t seen before.
  • Get together on zoom video chat to play. Have a pajama party or costume show. Play a game like Pictionary that can be played without pieces.
  • Pick a theme for the day and share art and pictures taken on that theme.
  • Have older kids call younger ones on video chat
  • Start a homework tutor thread. Surely there’s a grown up in the congregation who understands your child’s homework! Maybe even one who is bored. This could be especially helpful if schools are closed and middle and high school students are expected to do school work.
  • Pair new readers with a reading buddy! First the new reader reads and then their buddy takes a turn.
  • Many children love to perform. So do adults! So--All ages talent/no talent show! Take videos and share in a thread.
  • Have members listen to children do their instrument practicing. Many children love an audience.
  • Create collaborative online art, this article from Smithsonian Magazine talks about a drawing. and make it possible!
  • Do you have folks who know books? Maybe they could help people of all ages pick books through their local library (
  • Do some science! has options. Especially if a member of the congregation can explain the science to the kids or do the experiment together over video.
  • Real world pen pals. Pair shut-ins who enjoy real mail with children who like to draw or write. They can exchange drawings, notes, even a collaborative story one sentence at a time. Honestly, my children are going to create mountains of art. I’m happy to share.
  • Phone calls! Create a list of people who would enjoy phone calls from younger members of the congregation. Many children love to sing (or sing along to) their favorite song. Or recite a poem. Or just ask “how are you doing?”
  • Want a big challenge? Try a virtual choir! This YouTube Video, How Do You Create a Virtual Choir can help.

Technology to know about:

  • One to one video calls: Apple’s Facetime, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangout, and Skype are all free!
  • In addition to Zoom for larger groups, Google Hangouts is a good option and the premium version is currently free

We need to take care of each other and our communities physically. Let’s stay in touch even from a distance. Help keep parents sane and break up the monotony of being isolated for everyone. And not just connect about serious things, but also just to have fun. Connection, fun, community—things all ages love about their congregations.

About the Author

Evin Carvill Ziemer

Evin serves as the Developmental Lead for the New England Region. Evin holds a Masters of Divinity from Earlham School of Religion and Bachelor of Arts from Carleton College.

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