Together through the generations
Intergenerational faith exploration is integral to BRF’s ministries. While most visible in Messy Church, Living Faith and Holy Habits, it’s also a vital strand in the work of Parenting for Faith and Anna Chaplaincy. The value of generations being with and learning from each other in worship, shared meals, telling stories and just hanging out together is immense, and a reflection of what church should be.
Martyn Payne has written the introduction to this section of the book. Formerly part of BRF’s Messy Church team, Martyn is well known in Messy Churches the world over. He’s a gifted storyteller whose previous books The Big Story (2011) and Creative Ways to Tell a Bible Story (which we’re republishing in 2022) demonstrate the variety of approaches he uses to bring the Bible alive for children and adults alike. He is passionate about the blessing that comes when generations explore faith together. Now, in ‘retirement’, he also volunteers as BRF’s prayer advocate.
‘The value of generations being with and learning from each other in worship, shared meals and just hanging out together is immense.’
Belonging to God’s family
One great story arc of the Bible is family. The family of the patriarchs become the people of God, and then the Hebrew nation. This is a family that can trace its origins through blood ties, to which those Old Testament lists bear witness. It is a family of faith in the one true God, who longs to dwell in the midst of this family, as symbolised by tabernacle and temple.
Jesus was born into this family, as the gospel genealogies make clear; and, through his death and resurrection, membership is now open to all. This greater family is also related by blood, but in a different way; everyone in this family is a spiritual blood relation, connected to God through Christ.
Belonging to God’s family both embraces and transcends our ‘nuclear’ families. In both cases, however, the love that holds them together is of God, ‘from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name’ (Ephesians 3:15, NIV). In this big family, godparents, older friends, guardians and those who live on their own all have a role in helping everyone to come to fullness of life.
‘Godparents, older friends, guardians and those who live on their own all have a role in helping everyone to come to fullness of life.’
This is the family promised to Abraham – ‘more numerous than the stars in the sky’ (see Genesis 15:5). This is the family that is commanded to pass on the story of salvation to the next generation. This is the family that connects old and young in mutual blessing. This is the family for whom Christ died.
In the Bible, family isn’t a narrow concept. It’s multidimensional, inclusive and God-shaped. In this family we have many grandparents, multiple parents, a multitude of siblings and countless other relatives. At the same time, we are all children in this family, called to love one another and bear the family likeness, which was God’s plan from the very beginning.
Pass it on
To give you a taste of the reflections in this section, here is Mary Hawes’ meditation, ‘Pass it on’.
I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.2 Timothy 1:5–6 (NIV)
When my goddaughter was about 14, her church was going through a rough patch. There were internal conflicts and no young people left of her age. I asked why she continued to attend, when there were other churches close by with thriving youth ministries. She looked me in the eye and said very firmly, ‘Because Granny says it makes a difference that I’m here.’ Her grandmother’s wisdom meant that my goddaughter didn’t just ‘go’ to church: she knew she belonged there. Being part of the community of faith made a difference to her – and she made a difference to them.
Family plays an important part in helping children and young people grow and flourish in their relationship with God through Jesus. Seeing the generations living out their faith, talking about their faith, modelling what it means to be a follower of Jesus (however imperfect that walk might be) makes its mark on younger generations. Paul recognises the impact of Lois and Eunice on Timothy, the young man he had befriended, mentored and seen grow as a leader. Timothy had been nurtured in faith by his family, and now he, still a young man, was nurturing others.
John Westerhoff, who wrote about and studied how faith grows, noted the importance of a sense of belonging, of being part of a community in which faith is lived out across the generations. Children and young people need the community of the church, which is wider than their kin family. I have no kin-children, but I have been blessed by being part of a wider faith family in which I am invited to play my part in befriending and nurturing younger generations, who in turn teach and challenge me in my faith.
Your presence in the community of faith makes a difference to children and young people like my goddaughter. The challenge to us as adults is how we might allow them to make a difference to us.
Mary Hawes, national children and youth adviser, Church of England, and assistant priest, St Mary with St Alban, Teddington