A Gospel proclaimed by all ages
October 26, 2022
Something new and lifegiving is happening at Eaglehawk Uniting Church, located in the historic goldfield city of Bendigo in country Victoria.
The older and younger generations of this community have begun to take steps outside of their normal roles and expectations.
Take a look at the newest members of the Sunday School – three women, two in their 90s and one in her 60s have joined the dozen or so young people aged between 2 and 13 who regularly make up the group.
“One of them was so energised by the experience, she came away looking years younger and was telling everyone with great excitement that she couldn’t wait to go again!” reports the Minister Rev Cynthia Page.
Next month the community will combine this year’s Sunday School Anniversary with the celebration of Older Person’s Sunday, marking both occasions jointly in a worship service that will both acknowledge and draw upon the contributions of their youngest and oldest members.
They are also planning a Community Picnic, formerly the Sunday School Picnic, with activities involving young and old. Two teams will comprise diverse ages.
Cynthia says she was inspired to make these suggestions to her community after taking part in “Huddle” sessions organised for people to reflect on and discuss the book A Gospel for All Ages: teaching and preaching with the whole church by David Csinos.
The focus of the book, and what Cynthia has found particularly thought-provoking is the idea of “Intergenerational Preaching”.
“You have all these books about preaching and all these books about Intergenerational Ministry and Csinos brought them together when no-one had done so before. I found that really inspiring.”
Chris Barnett from the Intergenerational Ministry team at equipping Leadership for Mission (eLM) in the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania organised the Huddles which took place fortnightly on Zoom.
They created a safe and supportive space for people passionate about ministry to reflect, share stories and come away energised. People from across the country were involved.
“A Gospel for All Ages is a timely book for our Uniting Church context, offering both a clear theological foundation for intergenerational preaching and a range of practical examples,” says Chris.
“Perhaps even more importantly, it offers some key principles – ‘eight hallmarks of intergenerational preaching’ - that can be readily contextualised.”
“The blessing of the Huddle approach is that it provides a set aside time for participants to intentionally engage with the content of the book – exploring both the theoretical concepts and the possibilities for implementation in their own contexts - in a peer environment.”
Cynthia has always approached preaching with an open and creative mind, and so the encouragement to think about it ‘intergenerationally’ has been particularly exciting.
“As long as I’ve been Minister at Eaglehawk and Marong, I’ve never used the word ‘sermon’,” she explains. “I’ve always called it a ‘reflection’, just to make it clear that people shouldn’t assume they’ll be listening to a ‘talking head’, that really, what is happening is a ‘Response to the Word’. That could be a skit I’ve written or found, or poetry and music, a video, that kind of thing.”
Csinos’ case for intergenerational preaching has opened the door to new possibilities.
In the coming months, Cynthia is planning to involve people of different ages in the ‘Response to the Word’, and potentially, young and older people speaking alongside each other.
She has already asked a young teenager to do part of the ‘Response to the Word’ in November. They discussed the possibilities over lunch.
“I said, you might like to share an issue you are passionate about, or a hobby. With a bit of prompting, I found out that when he plays music he doesn’t get nervous the way he does with other tasks. Maybe that’s because it’s a gift, also because he loves it. In fact, he has musical talent in both sides of his family, including a relative who was a beautiful pianist at Eaglehawk. So, I thought I’d keep that in mind when I look at the readings for November and see if there’s one that fits, or maybe he might play music during the service and I will interview him about that.”
“The book has encouraged me to think outside the square and to give other people permission to as well. It’s good for the Spirit to get her voice in, to blow in and help us grow!”
At the same time as taking part in the Huddles, Cynthia had been watching the TV Program, Old Peoples Home for Teenagers on the ABC.
It emphasised for Cynthia the two-way transformation that can result from bringing different generations together. She approached the leader of their Children’s Program, Jenny Farrell about the possibilities. As a result, the three older women are joining Sunday School for the next seven weeks.
Jenny says, “It has been great for the children to see that the older people were once young. At the same time, it’s been good for the older people to see how things have changed. One of the older women was surprised the kids didn’t just come out for Sunday School and sit down and be quiet.” Rather, depending on the week, the children might be dancing, engaged in hands-on learning or doing an obstacle course!
Eaglehawk Uniting Church has a long history of support for discipling the next generations. The original church building included classrooms set up for Sunday School. Cynthia hopes intentionally thinking about being ‘Intergenerational’ might build new relationships and ways of engaging different generations together.
“I think it will bring life to everybody,” says Cynthia. “It will make going to church more creative and more varied and bring more voices, more participation and more perspectives, and that will be good for everybody.”
As the whole of the Uniting Church thinks about what it means to be an ‘Intergenerational Church’, Cynthia’s encouragement is to find ways to include the voices and perspectives of children in the places where we make decisions about the church.
“Why not think about how the 8-year-olds can contribute? There would be some children, aged 11 or 12, who would be very capable of speaking on the floor of a Synod meeting for example, particularly if we think about how we present those reports. I think there are lots of possibilities.”