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Our Secret Treasure: Intergenerational Worship

Occasionally someone asks if I’m planning to develop a Sunday morning service at the college and my answer is always a resounding “no.” Having gone back and forth between the parish and university for the past ten years, I know the value of having college students in our parishes and likewise the importance for students to be part of “families”: intergenerational Christian communities.

At its best, parish life not only nurtures a student’s spirituality at a pivotal time of growth, but gives him or her a sense of belonging, experience dealing with a wide variety of people and with conflict, volunteering, money, and other kinds of responsibility. It is easy in university life for students to begin thinking life is all about themselves, with recent university ads across North America encouraging the trend by advertisements such as, “It’s all about U.” In the parish, however, it is all about the community, it is all about God and the Gospel, but it is most certainly not about “U”!

Colombia sin usted (5)On the flip side, students bring much-needed life and energy to our parishes. When was the last time you spoke with a student about his or her high hopes for the future and enthusiasm for the present which reminded you of the days when you thought anything was possible? Quite frankly, I can’t imagine how any of our parishes run without the vigour and excitement of students, channeled by wise mentors.

In fact, whenever we reduce our Christian communities to only one or two generations, we are in grave danger of looking rather like the hand or foot of Christ instead of the entire body. After all, those early Christian communities were encouraged to include, not only slave and free, men and women, Jew and Greek; but young and old. The truth is, if it weren’t for intergenerational worship, I don’t think I’d be a Christian today. I’ve sometimes heard retired people say that they have nothing to offer the church, but it is from them that I learned to pray, to read Scripture, to follow Robert’s Rules of order and to run a fundraiser. From small children I learned responsibility, how to put the needs of others before my own, and how to change a diaper.

Our intergenerational communities are a treasure not found in many other places today. Where else might we watch a wealthy business woman caring for the child of a single mom, a homeless man sitting with suburban teenagers, or a surgeon serving a clerk from Giant Tiger? We are people with nothing in common except the One who makes us family, the One who makes something out of nothing. One of the things I value most about my own community is that the people there are nothing like me. We have different opinions and even more varied lives. Yet these are the very people God calls me to learn from, be challenged by, and pray with. And when we pray together, I begin to see the world a little more as God must see it: diverse and full of hope, teaming with life which can only thrive when it works together.

Yet too often, our faith communities begin to look like the university- people my age with my own goals and interests. I fear that when we are all parcelled off into our own groups for worship, we end up serving a Christ that looks dangerously like ourselves: and Christ very rarely comes to us in the form of ourselves. Christ, teach the saints, comes to us in the form of the stranger, the one who stretches and challenges and grows us into God’s likeness. And sometimes the stranger is a lonely engineering student. How might we make more room for such strangers in our communities?

Allison Chubb

About Allison Chubb

Allison Chubb is a chaplain at St. John’s College at the University of Manitoba and a youth coordinator for new Canadians in downtown Winnipeg. She is particularly interested in how youth engage what Robert Webber called “ancient-future worship,” those rituals of old practiced in a postmodern context where a new generation finds itself searching for rootedness. She describes herself as “paid to hang out with God and hang out with people.” On the side she loves to create by cooking, gardening, crafting, and balloon-sculpting.

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6 Responses to Our Secret Treasure: Intergenerational Worship

  1. Very true right on Community cant be built if people are segregated

  2. When I attended the University of Waterloo, I attended weekly Anglican worship at Renison College. It was mostly students, but there were two older couples from the neighbourhood who chose to worship with us as their regular church family. These folks were probably in their late 60s/early 70s, and participated in worship, Bible studies and our community brunch and brought all sorts of depth and wisdom to our community. So I heartily agree that intergenerational worship is deeply important; I just think that can be provided in a multitude of ways!

    If there hadn’t been an Anglican service on campus, I doubt I would have found a church; there weren’t any within easy walking distance, public transit was practically non-existent on Sunday mornings, and I certainly didn’t have a car. I know that not all college and university campuses are like that, so I guess responding to local context is the best answer.

    • Allison Chubb

      Heather, Yes I certainly agree. It DOES take many forms (for which I’m thankful!) Context is key. The real point is the importance of intergenerational worship. I know Bill Cliff has a lively intergenerational community at Huron, for example. Our university is set quite apart from the city and so isn’t attractive or accessible for older people and families. The buses aren’t bad and people at my church often volunteer to pick up students. A campus service might make more sense for urban Christian colleges or ones with theology programs. I had to drive an hour or more to the Anglican church when I was in college, but it was deeply formational to be part of that community.

    • Allison Chubb

      I think, too, that this highlights the importance of “campus parishes” reaching out to students. I know of several churches on or near campuses that have done an incredible job of welcoming and engaging students, aware that sometimes it’s difficult for the students to connect. I have a great deal of respect for those communities.

      • I was nurtured in my faith by a campus chaplaincy that was based at the local parish. We had a Thursday evening Eucharist on campus, and Sunday Evensong in the church with a student choir supplemented by a few “townies”, but the parish also deliberately included us in parish potlucks and other events. So it was a place to explore faith among a strong peer fellowship, while also being part of something much larger.

        Similarly, when I was in grad school, the campus chaplaincy, fully autonomous from any parish, included significant participation by faculty and staff, as well as those no longer formally affiliated with the university. The local parish also welcomed students (the year I sang in the choir I was one of 4 students out of 16 choristers from 20 to 60+)

        • Allison Chubb

          Jim, that sounds like the ideal situation! I think much fruit could be born of “campus parishes” connecting with chaplaincies. And other groups, for that matter, such as children’s and elder’s programs. Sounds like both groups benefitted. Was the parish church very close to campus?

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