By Colin Johnson, council secretary
Colin with grandchildren Amelia and Owen and friend in their new mini-deck playhouse in Grayslake, Illinois.
Last month I attended church at my daughter Rebecca Gordon’s congregation, where she had been providing pulpit service for some time. She lives in Grayslake, Illinois, about a dozen miles from her part-time call to St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Antioch, hard by the Wisconsin border at the end of the North Central Metra commuter line from Chicago. Two weeks ago this was recognized with a formal installation. The congregation is an older one with what seemed to me a fair distribution of ages.
That morning I was introduced to a form of post-service interaction with which I was unfamiliar. Intergenerational fellowship has been practiced for some time in the place usually reserved for “Sunday School” or sometimes an adult Bible study session. As the name suggests, there is no segregation by age. All—especially children—are welcome to participate. This particular Sunday, my son-in-law, a hospital administrator, was the designated leader and had engaged my seven-year old grandson in an important way.
The format is simple, contains five parts, and depending on the number of participants can take from less than a half hour to (I would guess) about 45 minutes. The leader assigns someone to read one of the lessons of the day he or she has selected based on what seems most appropriate to the discussion for that time. This was my grandson’s task.
The gospel reading for the day is chosen, which for that Sunday was the story of the disciples confronting Christ to explain the parable of the blind leading the blind; His earlier comments had offended the Pharisees (Matthew 15: [10-20], 21-28). Following the reading, each person at the table speaks of one “good thing” and one “bad, or unfortunate, thing” they experienced during the previous week. They are encouraged to relate it to the context of the lesson just read, as appropriate. Here, the Pastor is helpful in creating a possible context for this. Of course, for me this was easy: my visit with my daughter and my grandkids. The downside of the week for me was that I had injured my knee somehow in Logan and it was causing me some discomfort during my travels. In particular, it was interfering slightly with the project I had accepted for the trip—to design and construct a mini-play deck with a hammock chair as a “clubhouse” in the backyard of their new home. The project was going well and we would be putting some finishing touches on it that afternoon.
Others spoke of their anxieties, particularly surrounding the troubling events in Charlottesville, Virginia, of the previous weekend. The children in attendance—my grandchildren--would be starting school that week and were apprehensive of the change as their move the previous spring had put them in a new environment. Besides my family, there was an older couple, a middle-aged couple, and a single woman. Some obviously liked to talk and all were very articulate.
When everyone has spoken and it is clear that the conversation is drawing to a close, each participant offers a short prayer, addressing one of the concerns—or giving thanks for the good things—of one or more of the participants. The final act of the session is to turn to one’s neighbor—or several--and bless them with the sign of the cross upon the forehead.
I would by no means call this Bible study. You remember those? A book of the Bible is selected for study. The group plods through it verse by verse, during which someone, usually the pastor, preaches a sermon on nearly every phrase, sometimes holding forth on a single word, and by the end of two months, you discover you have covered an entire chapter and a half of the book you have chosen . . . if you are lucky. My daughter recounted to me the 19th century origin of the schoolhouse model of Sunday School (that is, the enlightened pastor, or leader, knows a great deal and the audience knows little to nothing). This occurred when Protestant denominations in England took on the task of moral instruction of its children whose parents were home sweating off the tremors of a gin-soaked weekend. Is the instructional model out-of-date? Could it be part of the reason that, according to my daughter, Sunday School attendance has probably declined by around 90% over the last several decades in Lutheran congregations? Judge for yourself.
When I asked my daughter about the source, she referred me to the Faith5 website of Stillwater, MN.: www.faith5.org. It’s founder, Rich Melheim, an ELCA pastor, has been promoting novel forms of faith education for something like a quarter century, so the concept is not exactly a new one. Melheim is the author of the two books entitled Let’s Kill Sunday School (Before It Kills Us). This pretty much spells out his philosophy; the second book details the Cross+Gen format, which is also on the website. His methods and materials continue to evolve.
What struck me about the intergenerational fellowship was that it resembled a family devotion, only a devotion carried out with one’s church family. The closest thing we have to it at Prince of Peace is perhaps the format of the Water + Word meetings. What I experienced was an opportunity to activate one’s faith with one’s fellow worshipers and their families in a way that could be meaningful and focused on the lectionary readings for the week.
Would it work at Prince of Peace? I don’t believe it is a question of whether it will work or not. It was a different experience, meaningful and significant in itself. It was not a substitute for traditional Bible study, Sunday School, nor post-service fellowship.
You may also be interested in Faith5’s much edgier www.faithink.org website of family resources which is promoting—presumably in time for the anniversary of the Reformation—the new works Luther: The Graphic Novel and Luther: The Rock Opera. I know I am.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.