At Portobello and Joppa Parish Church, as we ease out of the pandemic, our congregation is trying more intergenerational worship and ministry. This has come partially because of spending the last two years as part of a cohort of CofS churches exploring Growing Young, research from the Fuller Youth Institute. It has also come from recognising that through the lockdowns, families had more opportunity for faith to flourish in their homes. Conversations about Bible stories continued throughout the week as the result of shared worship experiences through ‘Godly Play’ online and ‘Messy Church at Home’ bags. Meanwhile, relationships with the wider church family have been missed and we have seen a need to facilitate more space for connection across the generations. We chose to try intergenerational worship as one priority as we returned to the building.
As the Family Worker, I invited children and young people from our Sunday Stars and Youth Group to join the worship planning team and I invited adults from three other generations to also join the team. This group already consisted of our ministers, the locally paid organist and me. Our current team spans four generations, planning for a service that is attended by six generations.
We meet in-person or on Zoom once every two months and choose the readings and themes for the half-hour worship. Each person contributes ideas towards music, interactive prayer, and thoughts to put towards the minister’s reflection. This team of people take turns on the rota to do readings, lead prayers, light candles, and welcome people. We have a team of volunteers from various generations involved in the band and AV. Our ministers provide space to listen and respond to suggestions from our children, young people, and adults equally – all contributions are welcomed, and we try to implement as much as possible.
As a result, we have seen our young people more encouraged that their voice matters. We have seen children, young people and older adults working together in planning which has led to building relationships that are much more than sitting next to each other in church.
We first tried this in October and December and have run it consistently since January. It is still in the pilot stages, so we continue to shape it as we learn what works and what needs improvement. We are doing this liturgical work, with each age and stage represented and respected. As a result, the worship is vibrant and informal.
Though this is encouraging, it has not come easily and by creating an intergenerational worship service, we have fragmented our congregation further. Now there are three services on a Sunday morning and families are choosing the intergenerational context. This inevitably means that our 11am more traditional service is missing the children and the life they bring to worship.
Change is hard, but it still worth doing. This is a work in progress. Our Kirk Session will pray and discuss the best way forward to connect the full church across the Sunday morning, whether we have one, two or three services. The important thing is to make these decisions and try things collaboratively, inclusive of each generation as we come to God together.
If there is anything to take from our ongoing experiment in intergenerational worship, it is to listen to our children, young people, and adults. Most importantly, bring the generations together to have the conversations with any paid workers and ministers so that our worship is truly the work of the people, honouring our God who loves us all and is worthy of all our praise.
Michelle Brown, Portobello and Joppa Parish Church