Most congregations’ first experience with multigenerational programming is the worship service. There is a broad spectrum of definitions of multigenerational worship: a “time for all ages” for 10-15 minutes each Sunday, one Sunday each month, 3-4 services per year for all ages centered around a holiday, or worship for all ages every Sunday.
A common aspect of multigenerational worship services is the importance of collaborative planning with all involved in worship.
Here are some “success stories” shared by congregations.
First Unitarian Universalist (UU) Society of Albany (NY)
Leah Purcell, Director of Religious Educaton at the First Unitarian Society of Albany, NY, received this testimonial from a parent:
[Our son] D is not a good gauge of whether a multigen service is working or not, since his ADHD and other issues tend to put him at one end of the curve. Even when we've had what I consider reasonable accommodations, e.g. the family seating with the pillows, it hasn't necessarily worked for him. However, today was the most successful mutigen service yet for our family. I think that the way you've restructured things (story distributed across the service, shorter songs, kids participation at the beginning, etc.) is definitely moving in the right direction. We did let D use his iphone for a lot of the service including the Homily, but he also asked me 3-4 questions about what the minister was saying so he was aware and listening to the message.
We decided not to stay for coffee hour and push our luck, but overall it's probably the first time we've been to a multigen where I was glad we went and knew we got something out of it as a family, as opposed to wondering if it was worth the trouble. I know multigen isn't an easy issue to address, but if it worked for D then I think you're on the right track. Thanks for a great service.
At this congregation, the minister, DRE and the music director collaborate on planning multigen services. Leah says, “For now we're ok with the multigens we have that are mostly around holidays, though not all are traditional - Ingathering, Wheel of Life, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Mardi Gras, Easter (last year we did a pagan story, The Green Man), RE Celebration Sunday, plus an Albany cluster multigenerational service. People have expressed how much they like that we strive to have an interactive part of the service, such as:
- For the Ingathering service, people send in a photo or two of their summer adventures and we have a slide show; in 2014 the minister and I did an ice bucket challenge after the service to support people in Ferguson, MO.
- Last year I led some people on a trek for water at a nearby park and we skyped into the service.
- For the Wheel of Life service one year we had people bring mementos of loved ones in transition the past year and we also asked them to bring a fallen leaf. During the service, we had a meditation for them to put their feelings about transitions into the leaves and bring them forward to the altar. This year we're asking them to bring seeds they find or from their garden as a way to think about what we want to carry forward. We'll plant them in a flower box in a window in the worship space and see what grows.
- We've had those kinds of meditations at our cluster worship too - one year we had cut out hearts with the name and date as mementos of the service; another time we passed earth beach balls around the congregation to collect good wishes and then hung them on a tree. For the Green Man service we invited folks to make masks after the service; for the Mardi Gras service, people were given materials to make 'second line' umbrellas and bring them to the service."
Northern New England District
Planner of this district’s spring conference wanted to model meaningful multigenerational worship for congregations. Rev. Barbara McKusick Liscord and former DRE Johanna Searle worked with a team to plan and lead a multigenerational worship service for the NNED Spring Conference 2014. The Planning Team was intentionally inclusive, including district music leader, a youth, and some families from the Milford, NH congregation. They discussed the theme, a story, and ideas for music. Having good direction and two rehearsals were key to their success. Comments from participant evaluations were glowing:
- The worship service was fun and thought provoking while providing the message for change.
- Wonderful job was done by all, especially representing as a multigenerational service.
- This was a joyful, humorous, and inspirational service. I thought the morning worship was excellent, very Unitarian Universalist, full of humor and with a challenging thought—and it was good for all ages.
- Best service I have attended for its imaginative presentation and theme.
- It offered a joyful and playful embodiment of multi-generational community - expressed through the music and the stories that were presented.
- The intergen worship was great!
- It was a wonderful example of multigenerational worship.
- Good role modeling of how to incorporate multiple generations into a service.
- Modeling of multigenerational collaboration and collegial minister/dre relationship!
Harvard UU Church
While serving the Harvard UU Church in Harvard, MA, former religious educator Melinda Green shared:
“The minister and I have transformed all-ages worship services by doing drama together. Using our theme, we sketch out a brief narrative - The Problem and What to We All Can Do About it - and then we break it down into little 'scenes' which get combined with the familiar liturgical elements (singing, music, offering, prayer, etc.) to create the order of service. We do some basic visual/thematic enhancements e.g. decorating the chancel, having 1-2 basic props, or perhaps a simple costume (tool belt, or a beret - nothing complicated. We have found that by focusing on telling a story through drama, everyone stays engaged. We have things that need to be done by children and anyone else who wants to participate - things we need to fix or connect or make to bring the narrative to conclusion. We use lots of humor, both in the dialog and in our movements.
It's been very successful with all ages and everyone feels like they've had an all-ages shared experience. The services we do together like this have had excellent attendance, and have generated lots of energy and enthusiasm."
For more about multigenerational worship, visit Worship Web.
Is your congregation using multigenerational ministry? How has it made a difference in your setting? How have congregants, families, or staff groups been changed through multigenerational ministry? Share your story by emailing multigen [at] uua [dot] org.