Intergenerational Worship

At a recent gathering of the Anglican and Episcopalian Churches in Germany we had opportunity to collectively think about how our chaplaincies work (or maybe don’t work) on an intergenerational level. The two dynamic leaders were Diane Craven and Harvey Howlett. The theme for our yearly educational event came from the chair of the organizing committee after reading an article by Diane in the Church Times which addressed issues of intergenerational work, worship and witness with areas focusing on: Learning together, Praying together, and Serving together. The article is here to read if you are interested.

Rarely is the church not intergenerational. Even if people like to highlight ‘missing generations’ that seem not to be present in the gathered community; on the whole, church is intergenerational, with my only experience of it not being so is at a number of ‘mega’ churches which felt more like a concert than church, and if you paid enough attention, you would realize that there were a variety of ages represented.

The real question for me, having had some time to reflect on the three day event is, how do we relate to each other if, in reality, our congregations are evenly spread through with a number of generations. At times, it is majority rule, and other times it is like being held hostage by a small faction of determined individuals; as the church joke goes, ‘what’s the difference between a terrorist and a liturgist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.’ (Groan) I think that at the best of times, the gathered people is like a community which is similar to a family set about a common or similar aim. For this reason, there is a lot of emphasis placed on meals together. One only needs to think of a family meal in which a number of generations gather, which apparently happens less often in by today’s standards — some estimate that we spend 30 minutes a day with ‘family’ and over 8 hours a day on some electronic device.

Every cohort of a generation will have different needs and expectations of what it is to be church; this leads to friction of course, as differing needs collide. Being reflective and intentional might be the best way forward. Reflective in how we learn, pray and serve at different stages of life and faith development. As well, we need to be forgiving because we will not always get what we are looking for and find that there will always be some group or individual which is somehow alienated: be it the singles at the family service, the crying infant and overwhelmed lonely single parent at the meditative Book of Common Prayer service, the elder who hears nothing but feedback as the loud music plays havoc with hearing aids as the printed font used for the projected worship service is too small to see; or the immigrant who desperately wants to be in a community, but finds that she cannot understand all of the language so that words which are packed with meaning only lead to more confusion and a growing feeling of alienation.

Each generation will think that they have the answer, as the answer is them, and they must be right. Over the years I have heard strange phrases from the mouths of otherwise pleasant people like, “They will learn to like the BCP if they hand out the prayer books in their role as sides-people and stop loafing around,” or “No wonder this place is half dead, all they care about is investing thousands of dollars on redoing their memorial garden, but they won’t let us paint a youth room.” There might be some value in shifting our perspectives, that our own generation has got it right, and other generations have it all wrong, to something a bit more positive and collaborative and forgiving, such as, “I am, because we are.”

However, rather than focusing on what might be seen as dividing lines between generational needs, there is actually a great deal of good things going on. Such as a church outing to the ice rink when Children’s Church teachers fall flat on the ice and the children skate daring circles around them; the adults have been made into the pupils and the child the teacher; an interaction which then changes the relationship when they next meet on Sunday to discover that we all fall down, nobody is perfect, and we all have something to learn. Or another role reversal when a server does not turn up to help with distributing the bread and wine of communion and a child is eager to help, and does, bringing tears to some as they receive this sacred meal from a child who knows no proper phrase, or liturgical response and has no special ‘license,’ but simply beams with love and enthusiasm. And finally an example of praying together when despite the years of theological study by the youth leader/quasi-theologian a young boy who has started to come to youth group proclaims that knowing God is simple, one only needs to look at an acorn from an oak tree — and the idea strikes the leader as he suddenly realizes that this sounds awfully familiar — like a saying from an ancient female mystic, or one of the desert fathers.

There is no easy way to ‘solve’ intergenerational worship, especially as our own needs and desires, as we search for God, continue to change. I might want a rock band today, but long for simple silence tomorrow. While people change and develop, so does the nature of our churches, and our society where there never seems to be one particular model or identifying factor, rather there is a lot of things all mixed together where we might feel that the church is like a social club today, and tomorrow a group of pilgrims. I imagine it is a bit of both, and more.

Rather than intergenerational: seeing the generations (however we define them) as separate and then somehow linked together; maybe it is better to speak of intragenerational where we recognize that within a church, or chaplaincy structure we have webs of connectedness and that at times, those who may be students are at times the teachers; and those who are leaders are sometimes servants. But then, that’s really about my generations needs, and so it must be correct. Right?

The Church as a Tupperware Cupboard

Over the years I have amassed numerous volumes of books on the subject of the church. As large as the self-help section is in any given bookstore, the religious book trends give equal footing to what I might call the self-help-for-the-church section.  While there are certainly some gems on how to be / do / become church; for the large part, anyone who seems to be able to string a sentence together could market a book about doing church better.

Doing church better written by pastors, for pastors, to make them feel that they are never good enough, that the church congregation that they serve is not good enough, that the grass is always greener on the other side of a denominational fence.  All these things lead to some very destructive thoughts about ourselves and the church.

Besides the piles of books on the church, another thing that seems to pile up in our household (and I am sure yours too) is the kitchen space devoted to food storage containers.  Be it Tupperware, Lock’n Lock boxes, IKEA Förtrolig, or old margarine containers; there is a drawer, or shelf, located in the kitchen where we keep all these lids and containers.

Sometimes I think that the church is represented in that shelf of containers.  While seeking harmony feels like the most pleasurable thing to imagine in the church, it is often frustratingly absent much of the time.  The church is a lot like that drawer of tupperware for a few reasons.

  1. We start off well intended, but soon find it a mess.51UiNsrVRhL._SL250_
  2. We really want to savour the moment, but it usually comes back days later as a fuzzy mess.
  3. We have all the right stuff, but sometimes things don’t click.

We start off well intended but soon find it a mess: Let’s say it is a new school year and you’ve gone out an bought a set of storage containers. Our hopes and dreams of having a nice orderly school career are almost religiously symbolized in the new displayed and neatly stacked set of storage containers.  However, with in a week (and often times sooner) you find that lids are missing, that the base of another set has shown up and it even has a sticker with some other persons name on it. I pretty sure that these storage containers reproduce all on their own when they are left in the cupboard in the dark.  In fact, storage containers are the opposite of socks.  Socks disappear in the wash, whereas containers multiply in the cupboard – so much so that the neatly organized system becomes a hodgepodge of lids and bases which now need to be crammed into a small shelf so that the door of the cupboard barely closes anymore.

We really want to savour the moment but it usually comes back days later as a fuzzy mess: “Wow, that supper/lunch/desert/food brought by guests/ was tasty! Let’s keep some for later, maybe for lunch tomorrow.”  You’ve said these words, only to find that either the food never makes it from the refrigerator to the container and after some time gets gently sorted to the back of the shelf with several bottles of half used salad dressing only to be discovered next time you give the fridge a good cleaning.  OR, that yummy food goes into a container and is packed away for school/work/picnic and maybe you realize when you open up your storage box that the food doesn’t look as it did before, or that the only thing cold the next morning that really has any taste is a cheese pizza as you look at your now limp salad that you enjoyed so much the night before.  The food get’s tucked away, unfinished in the bottom of the school bag, office briefcase, or on the floor of the car where after some months and seasons of sliding back and forth it has become lodged under the seat and we blame the dog for any strange smells whenever a guest rides in the car with us.

We have all the right stuff but sometimes things don’t click. You know the feeling of being on your hands and knees as you search for all the parts of your container system.  Why is it that it is always the bottom shelf that these things go? You have all the parts: you have food, you have a base, you have a lid.  Sometimes you can only find a huge base that is far bigger than the amount of food you need.  Blue berries, and that cheese sandwich will bounce around for hours before lunch until you have your own (unwanted) smoothy.  Or your box and the lid are a different size or shape.  How many people knew that margarine containers are not universally shaped, but can be loosely (and ineffectively) held together with a rubber band? Then there is the real challenge that you think you have all the right parts, but they somehow don’t magically click together.  That pudding desert has managed to find the crack in the seal and is partially pooled at the bottom of your bag, and you may wonder how you are going to put it all back together again in a nice presentation so that it can sit on the table amongst all the other items of food that were brought for the shared lunch.

What then do we make of this when we compare it to the church given that so many want to write books that make us believe that we can be better, do it more wisely, or be more effective.

In a multicultural setting we may have in theory the desire for harmony, but what we must be willing to live with is much more chaotic.  We start off well intended but soon find it a mess.  We need to learn to live with the mess.  Money, sexuality, politics, and religion are all issues we want to find harmony in discussing or sharing, but culturally we come from diverse understandings so we should be prepared to find it a bit unclear.  We may start off with a simple church activity only to find that like the multiplying tupperware, we are now dealing with different issues and perspectives.  We may even be surprised that some unknown item has appeared and we don’t really feel that prepared to begin discussing it, or how to answer.

We really want to savour the moment but it usually comes back days later as a fuzzy mess.  It is nearly impossible to copy a method or system of being church and reproduce it to everyones delight.  The church self-help book market is great at making you believe that if you just follow these 3, 7, 10, easy steps then you too will be the pastor of a mega-church. Yes, it might be great, like that Tiramasue cake, but when we take it home with us and open it up the next night the colours look a bit off, and it seems the coffee has started to separate from the rest of the cake.  Maybe we are surprised when what looked (or tasted) great, has grown into something else mysteriously.

We have all the right stuff but sometimes things don’t click.  Here I think that there is the biggest area to frustrate as it seems like we have all we need, we are so close, but it doesn’t go like planned.  If we take the parts of any kind of church event we have high hopes for having it all work out, but in reality, we may have all the right parts, but something has failed to ‘click’.  People go to great amounts of effort to dream up, and provide that pudding that will be out for others to share.  Some blame may get passed around as to what part didn’t live up to expectations – that lid should have held together, and it didn’t!  Each of the parts of the package have been designed with the best of intentions, but when we mix a Lock’n Lock with an IKEA Förtrolig the design (and cultural) differences make it more challenging to ultimately what was desired in the first place – to share in the enjoyment.

In the end of it all, the whole desire was that something good was made and there is an equal desire to share it, or have it continue.  Sometimes, however, our expectations are not met and we don’t have that harmony.  In these kinds of moments it is like God trying to tell us something.  Maybe it is not so much about the system, the containers, the organization, the desire to preserve, the desire to have it all come together; but that we have something truly good to share.  We enjoy our enjoyment.  Forcing things to harmonize can be a frustrating experience, but if we take a look at what God has given us and let things work out, maybe as God intends, and despite ourselves, we find that there is a lot of good stuff to celebrate.

Well intended.  Savour the moment.  God provides the right stuff.

 

via Daily Prompt: Harmonize

One Big Loop

There is a certain symmetry to life, despite the moments of what may seem like chaos, when I look at things with a ‘big picture’ kind of view even the chaos falls into place.

The trip to Canada had its moments of chaos even before we had begun our travels.  Being a Canadian living in Germany, I was unaware of the change of travel rules that now require dual passport holders to travel into Canada with both passports.  This issue occupied a huge problem for us as a family as one of our Canadian passports had expired and the time frame for getting a new passport was far shorter than if we actually lived in Canada.  We the help of the friendly consulate staff in the Munich office we were able to get a Temporary Passport.  Even with the fact of having to personally drop-off the application, and personally receive the Temporary Passport there was much relief once the passport was in hand just a few days prior to our departure.  The nervous chaos seems a distant memory which has had its rough edges smoothed over with the passage of time, like that of a river smoothing a rock.

Time has a way of smoothing over a lot of things.

Once in Canada we had arrived in time for my Grandmother’s funeral.  With many people beyond that of family involved in the service at Christ Church Cathedral, Vancouver, there was so much potential for chaos; however, the funeral was conducted expertly, and even the horse drawn hurst was able to make it through the busy downtown streets.

Over the next few days, many of the family set their energy and attention towards the wedding of my sister.  The wedding and reception, each beautiful occasions, which mark the beginning of a life together for my sister and her husband.  In the moments of planning and preparation it is sometimes difficult to see out of the chaos to a tranquil outcome, but as time has passed, the outcome certainly was romantic and serene.

In a small way, the activities in Vancouver came full circle, as one long marriage ended due to death, another marriage has just begun.  While the preacher at the funeral spoke powerfully and meaningfully to the gathered congregation, the same priest was also the last person to conduct a wedding in the Anglican church in which the marriage was held.  A mentor and friend at both the end and the beginning of these important acts of worship which punctuate the flow of life.

During our very short time spent trying to see friends and acquaintances in Victoria, everything worked out as well as could be considering the spontaneity of much of the planning and the coordination of many people.

The flight home to Germany felt like the completion of one great loop across the map that  burned brightly on the airplane navigational display.  The chaos of luggage loaded, passengers seated, and meals served, all translated, in the big picture, to a pleasant flight.  The chaos of life, with a little perspective, is not so unlike that rough stone which over time is smoothed down to a river rock.  The chaos of an aged life, and indeed a new life together, is also smoothed down and refined.

God has a way of smoothing over a lot of things.

Doors of Opportunity

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My panorama picture doesn’t do justice to the actual church entrance, but I wanted to show how many people find themselves in this spot when they finally getting the nerve to open the doors and enter inside.

The Petrous Kirche is part of the wider Badische Landeskirche and is of the reformed tradition.  The church was completely renovated and refitted in the last few years.  The photo captures the upper floor of the building that contains the sacturary, a variety of meeting rooms, a kitchen and toilets.  At the far right of the picture is a little bridge to the front entrance of the Diakonie that offer social services to the wider community.  On the ground floor…which we don’t see from this view…is the kindergarten.   In the last couple months the Petrous community and the Anglican Church in Freiburg have partnered with a third church congregation, the Royal Family Baptist Church.  The stimulus for this work was partly a new church building that was under used.  Now it is a building that is in high demand with multiple user groups.

The ecumenical relationships are still being worked out, in what I like to think of as dance partners.  There are times when we step on each others toes as we learn the new moves.  Despite the initial discomfort and awkwardness there is a vision of real teamwork and partnership that serves not just the members, but the wider community.

The diversity and enterprise makes us all stronger.  So if you have walked up the stairs, or taken the lift…or even strolled through the vineyard next-door and hopped the fence; people of all walks of life have an opportunity to come through the doors of the church.

I also need to remind myself and others, in that when we leave the doors of our respective worship services we do so through the same doors.  We leave as One people in One Church.

Ephesians 4. 1-5  

I [Paul] therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.