Tag Archives: intergenerational

Story Project: A Faith Nurtured and Renewed

By John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister

How are we doing as a broader faith community in passing on faith to the next generation? Where is faith being lived out loud in such a way that our children and youth are catching a vision of what it means to be follower of Jesus today? The title of John H. Westerhoff’s book Will Our Children Have Faith, first published in 1976, is a question that reverberates with every generation of the church.

In some of our churches we are noticing emptier pews and smaller youth groups, decreasing engagement in the life of worship, and greater divides in cross generational life. I hear both anxiety and fear in response to these trends.

The reasons for these trends are as multi-faceted as is the diversity of our conference congregations. We also don’t live in a bubble from larger societal trends. Many studies reveal that more millennials are choosing to opt out of traditional church participation. This drop in traditional religious engagement and identity spans every demographic group.

We often talk about passing on faith to the next generation as if it was a one way street. A more apt metaphor may be one of a journey in which faith comes alive for each one of us in new ways as each generation shares in common experiences and practices of the Christian life. Unless we as adults are growing in our faith how can we expect our children and youth to grow into a faith that lasts and matures in adulthood?

Several years ago in my neighborhood there were several boys who were ringing doorbells late at night and then dashing away. My anger got the best of me one night and I chased them through the streets after they rang our doorbell waking the whole household. Much to my chagrin, my seven year old daughter heard what I did. Thankfully, she showed me a better, and more Christ-like way, to respond. The next evening she suggested that we set out a plate of freshly baked cookies that we had made that day so that the boys could have something to eat if they came again that night.

Our children may have something to teach us about being peacemakers if we as adults are willing to listen!

What is the invitation of the church at this time? What are the deeper questions we need to be asking of ourselves and how we live as disciples of Christ? We may need to look to the edges of our institutions and faith communities to see the Spirit moving. We will need to place our trust and hope in a revealing God who has been faithful for many generations.

I believe we have stories and practices that we can share with one another to spur us on in this grand journey and narrative of God’s revealing salvation. We have signs of hope if we look closely enough. We have a rich heritage of faith that can inspire us to live anew into the emerging shape of the people of God.

Along the way, we may be called to let go of some things. In order for the new to arise some ways of doing things in the church may need to die that the church may be resurrected to new life. Are we willing to allow our church structures to change to support and embrace the new shapes of faith of the next generation? As our demographics change and as our world around us changes we will need to imagine new wineskins. We also may be called to reclaim pieces of our faith heritage that we have neglected.

Over the next year, we want to highlight stories from across our conference of how faith across generations is being renewed and lives transformed. Let’s tell on each other in the best possible way to highlight the good news of God at work in our young and old. What models do we have, both new and old, of renewing faith intergenerationally? Contact me if you have a story to tell of a faith nurtured or renewed in your congregation or larger community.

The good news is still breaking

Steve Krissby Stephen Kriss, director of leadership cultivation

“After a sermon like that, I just want to cry,” commented octogenarian Roma Ruth, reflecting on Salford intern John Tyson’s debut sermon on Sunday.  John is an Eastern Mennonite University and Christopher Dock High School grad studying now at Princeton Seminary.  His internship represents the best of flourishing conference, congregation, and community relationships.  He is learning alongside his old high school history teacher, Joe Hackman, who is now Salford’s lead pastor.   I’m serving as John’s official supervisor for the year, a role I’m happy to fill as the conference’s director of leadership cultivation.

Roma’s family helped to start the small mission church in Somerset County, Pa., where my family first connected with the Mennonites.  Now, almost thirty years later, I am the one cultivating new generations of leaders.  In the seven years I have worked for the conference, it has been both a challenge and a joy to do this kind of work, helping a historic community navigate into the realities of next-generation leadership.  I’ve worked with dozens of interns, students, pastors.   I continue to witness amazing and sometimes disturbing things.  It’s not easy to be a next-generation leader in the church.  There are lots of bang-ups and bruises.   What amazes me, though, is the willingness of young people to invest in our broken but beautiful communities in spite of, and sometimes because of, this very brokenness.

Roma told me that her tears were from the realization that John’s sermon spoke powerfully to issues of the Good News, justice, and peace that are close to her heart.  She recognized in the sermon yet another turning of the page.  It’s a gracious realization that God continues to call forth new leaders in nearly 300-year-old congregations in a half-millennia-old tradition in ways that are both resonant and discordant with the past, but nonetheless harmonizing with the way of Christ across the generations.

I am becoming more and more aware that the Spirit is increasingly calling leaders across ethnic lines, calling women, calling people born outside of the Mennonite fold into our contexts of worship and ministry.  These men and women are highly skilled, highly committed, willing to be vulnerable, willing to contribute without thought of compensation, often living somewhere between patient and zealous, believing in both constancy and change.  Of course there are still areas of growth, but overall the gifts of next-generation leaders are like the gifts of the magi—appropriate, overwhelming, full of mystery and grace.

It is fitting that John’s sermon was on Epiphany, a time of celebrating the gifts of those coming from another place, marking the inbreaking of salvation, wise to the ways of the world, bearing with them what they hope will witness to a beautiful new beginning embedded in a real and historic story.   Our community’s challenge is to have the courage, wherewithal, and imagination, along with the spiritual rootedness, to understand and celebrate that God is still with us and that, as John said in his sermon and Roma affirmed this last Sunday at Salford, “the good news is still breaking.”

Learning to listen across generations

by Joe Hackman, Salford (Harleysville, Pa.)

Salford listening
Joe Hackman and Sanford Alderfer from Salford congregation. Salford is focusing this year on learning to listen across generations.  Photo by Tim Moyer.

“Thank you for listening!” say several excited young children at the end of every episode of Salford’s Listening Project.  Our church has been doing a lot of listening these days.

Last summer we set aside several months for prayer and discerning what God might be calling us to for the next several years.  The discernment led us to something pretty basic:  learning how to get better at listening to God.

In the next several years we will be learning to listen for God in our personal lives, in our local community, in hospitality, and in difficult conversations.  This year we’ve given special focus to learning to listen to God in intergenerational relationships.

One young woman who recently joined our church told me, “The reason I’m drawn to this community is that older people are curious about my family and me.  They really want to know who we are and what we’re thinking.”

But trying to get different generations to listen to one another and for God’s movement in those relationships has proven to be a joy and a struggle.  Some of our ideas have flourished while others have not.

Salford’s Listening Project invites people from across generations to sit in our old sound booth above the church sanctuary to share and record stories of faith with each other.  In a recent episode, two women discussed a time when the church prevented a person in FBI training from serving as a youth sponsor because he was required to carry a gun.  For the woman in her 80’s, this was a time when church leadership took a stand and did not compromise on a core belief.  For the woman in her 30’s, who was a member of the youth group at that time, the same story created much hurt; she interpreted it as a low point in her experience at Salford.  Sharing the story and the different ways it was understood helped both women listen for God’s movement in both the joy and pain of this event.

Salford listening
One initiative for intergenerational listening at Salford included a month-long crossover Sunday school class for youth and retirees. Photo by Tim Moyer.

But intergenerational listening hasn’t always been a success.  After Easter we started an intergenerational Sunday school class called “Jesus through the Ages.”  We had willing participants (mainly Gen Xers and the Silent Generation) gather around tables and look at scripture passages together, led by a team of skilled facilitators.  But, try as we might, the class struggled to thrive.

Why?  We’re not completely sure.  But we learned that different generations have different expectations for Sunday school and how it should be formatted. We decided to cancel the class after July and encouraged folks to return to their regular classes—which are traditionally split along generational lines.

I remember a few years ago the theme for the Mennonite Church USA Convention was “Can’t Keep Silent,” and I sometimes think of the irony: our congregation believes God is calling us to listen right now!  The church is called to offer people a new way of life brought about by the presence of a countercultural, spirit-filled reality.  And in a world that is increasingly polarized by talking heads on radio, television, and Twitter feeds, Salford needs to do the hard work of learning to listen to God and to each other; this is a message of good news for our church and our world.

Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)

by Ubaldo Rodriguez, New Hope Fellowship/Nueva Esperanza (Baltimore, Md.)

Ubaldo RodriguezI appreciate the opportunity to express my Latino perspective of what it means to Mennonite. I grew up as a Catholic and I became a disciple of Jesus in a Mennonite Church in Colombia, South America.

I define myself as a disciple of Jesus who is part of the Mennonite family and uses the Anabaptist theological glasses by which I read the Scriptures in a particular way: using the historical Jesus as the  paradigm for personal and social ethics for Christian living; participating with God and my community of faith in the formation and transformation of individuals and societies; discerning in community our mission or reason for existence here and now in our particular context; making disciples in order to keep expanding the kingdom of God.

I believe the communal Christian life is like a boat that continuously moves back and forth from the river to the pond. When the boat is on the river of the Spirit, it brings life, newness, challenges, and hope for the future.  In the river, we take the risk of being led by the flow of the Spirit and many times we end up in wonderful places and situations where we never expected to be. On the other hand, when we are on the still waters of the pond of tradition, we are like a lighthouse that guides those who are traveling in this world with no direction and purpose in life.

In my own experience, I have been in both –the river and the pond waters in the Mennonite Church.  What I have been discovering is that both places are important in order to be relevant in this changing and needy world.

I am glad that the Lord allowed me to live in this particular time of history in the Mennonite Church, because along with many brothers and sisters we have this great opportunity to be history makers.  I believe we are living in the time that the prophet Joel prophesied (2:28), when the Lord is going to pour out his Spirit on all people–in our case, all those riding the Mennonite boat in the river of the Spirit sharing the richness of our Mennonite Anabaptist theological tradition.

Menno Simons saying
Click to expand.

This promise gives me hope for unity, for integration; for working together as people of God in the same spirit, a spirit in which the older generations share their unfinished spiritual dreams to the younger generations and empower them to accomplish those dreams by the power of the Spirit through a fresh vision.

This sounds very exciting to Mennonite in a new way.  This is one of the times in our Mennonite history when we need leaders with the spirit of Caleb and Joshua, (Numbers 14:6-9), who saw the challenges as opportunities to experience God’s faithfulness and mighty presence among them.  As the Mennonite church, we should keep moving forward; the desert of power and fear of change should not stop us from moving to the promise land that flows with milk and honey.

“Franconia’s got talent–” we have people with amazing gifts that can take the conference to the place where the Lord wants us to be.  So now we wait and see what Mennonite history will tell about us, if we were a generation that made a difference.

Next week, Maria Byler, Philadelphia Praise Center, will share a ritual component of Mennoniting.  How do you “Mennonite”?  Join the conversation on Facebook & Twitter (#fmclife) or by email.

Who am I?  (To Mennonite Blog #1)
Serving Christ with our heads and hands (To Mennonite Blog #2)
Quiet rebellion against the status quo (To Mennonite Blog #3)
Mennoniting my way (To Mennonite Blog #4)
Generations Mennoniting together (To Mennonite Blog #5)
Body, mind, heart … and feet (To Mennonite Blog #6)
We have much more to offer (To Mennonite Blog #7)
Mennonite community … and community that Mennonites (To Mennonite Blog #8)

Conference pastors focus on intergenerational leadership

By Benjamin Sutter, benjamins5@goshen.edu

Harleysville, PA—Sheldon Good and Steve Kriss know what it means to work as an intergenerational leadership team—Good worked as an intern with Franconia Conference for four years under Kriss, director of communication and leadership cultivation. The two men brought their own story of leading from separate generations to this month’s pastors’ breakfast.

More than forty conference pastors and church leaders gathered Thursday morning at the Mennonite Conference Center to discuss intergenerational leadership. Kriss and Good, now assistant editor of the Mennonite Weekly Review, outlined some differences between the leadership styles of Generation X (age 30-45) and Millennial (age 18-29) leaders.

“[Millennials] don’t just use gadgets and Google, we fuse our lives into them,” said Good. He described Millennials as a generation marked by Google, while Kriss reflected on how the PBS show Sesame Street encouraged Generation Xers to embrace diversity.

Kriss remarked at the increasing demographic diversity of leaders in the conference. He noted the presence of women, Asians, and those in their 30s, commenting that it was not difficult to find a panel of congregational leaders who already work with intergenerational leadership teams.

Good and Kriss praised the diversity, but hope that shared intergenerational leadership will continue to develop in more churches. Kriss noted that the conference is credentialing Gen X leaders much later in life than previous generations; both men cautioned that this sets up potential for leadership clash between generations.

“Millennials want to lead now,” said Good. “If they’re told they’re going to lead next, they’ll go somewhere else where they can lead now.”

During the second half of the breakfast, a panel of intergenerational leaders from the conference shared challenges and hopes. This panel included pastors from Philadelphia Praise Center, Ambler Mennonite, and Nueva Vida Norristown New Life.

“We tend to congregate around people who mimic us and seem like us,” shared Andrew Huth, outreach pastor for Ambler. Intergenerational leadership can help bring new and different people into churches, he said.

“Church is a place where we come to discuss and wrestle [with life],” Huth said. “[Intergenerational church] allows for a broader range of people to participate … When we expand a discussion in the church, that can only be a good thing.”

 

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Intergenerational Questions and Trends