'Our heart for God's renewal': Intergenerational at Trinity Alberton Uniting Church
November 16, 2022
When Pastor Simon Story was called to leadership at Trinity Alberton Uniting Church just outside Adelaide’s CBD, it was a long way from the secular roles he and his partner Leesa had held in the years before.
With a strong call to ministry, a passion for families and what Simon calls “our heart for God’s renewal”, they made Trinity Alberton their home trusting that God might use their leadership to nurture something new.
What followed their arrival in early 2021 is an inspirational story about the journey towards intergenerational community, and how the grace and courage to embrace change, and each other, is transforming the congregation.
“We felt we were being called to build relationships and explore together creating a space where families would be welcome and would want to be part of the worshipping community,” said Simon.
With two young children themselves, Simon and Leesa knew the value of worshipping spaces where the chaos of young family life was welcome. They found at Trinity Alberton the openness to explore how this could be an offering of the congregation.
“The existing congregation was 20 older people, but there was a beautiful thing happening. They had reached a point where they were saying, ‘we know that something needs to change. We’d love to have younger people in the church and we’re willing to look seriously at what change would be required’.”
“We invited the congregation to come on a journey with us. We were honest and said we didn’t know what it will look like, we’re stepping into the unknown, but it’ll be a respectful journey.”
They decided to maintain the more traditional worship service that had been central for so many years but invited the congregation to embrace change in almost every other way. And they did.
The gathering spaces started to look different. The congregation began to understand that the life of the congregation was broader than Sunday worship, and some began to build relationships with families belonging to the playgroup on site.
“This was the beginning of them starting to think more intergenerationally,” said Simon. “It set the scene for how we could start something new.”
Then Simon and Leesa did something a bit surprising – and courageous.
“We wrote a letter to five local families that even from the initial discerning stage we felt God had placed on our hearts. We explained the context of our congregation and our heart for God’s renewal – where we felt God was leading us.”
Over a period of a year, four of these families became part of the community and part of the discernment about how to create an inclusive and intergenerational worshipping space.
Now every week at Trinity Alberton there is a traditional service and a family service with a core group of 10 families. There is a community time in between the two where everybody can gather.
Once a month, a ‘Generations Service’ brings the whole community together in a café style setting with a combination of hymns, contemporary songs and discussion at tables. They also share in Communion using an intergenerational liturgy Simon wrote for the community, and which he has generously made available for other congregations to use. Download it here.
Different people lead different parts of the service, and every generation is represented.
“At our last Generations Service we had everything from a three-week old through to an 86 year old. We’re created to be in community and when that community has a diversity to it both culturally and of ages, I just think it’s so much richer.”
Simon says he deliberately uses the terminology of family when speaking of the intergenerational life of the congregation – “it’s the whole church gathering as a family” – and the gatherings do feel like family.
There is a sense of ease in the room as people relate and share stories. There is a growing appreciation for the insights different people bring.
“Seeing the value of the wisdom older people can bring, and the life and joy we see in our children, it grows the sense of relationship at the heart of our Christian walk.”
“I love when we’re having a table discussion at the Generations Service and you’ll get an insight from a child you never would have thought of. And kids have nothing to prove, they just say it like they see it! And sometimes it’s the most profound thing you’ll hear that day.”
Simon believes that the intergenerational setting, which is less formal and often includes creative elements, is one of the Church’s best opportunities to welcome people who may have had a poor experience of the church or have no experience at all.
“In our modern context when church, and for some people Christianity, is very foreign, the intergenerational setting creates an invitational space which is maybe more familiar and accessible. In a setting where you’re around tables and only chatting to a couple of other people, you can ask questions.”
And what would it look like if our whole Church was a genuinely Intergenerational Church?
“I think there’d be such greater engagement as we offer that relational context, a sense of belonging and a way to participate meaningfully.”