Aging Well: The value of intergenerational ministries

Recently, I was at an airport in North Carolina waiting to board a flight to Atlanta making a connection to Dallas. I had just made it through the security line when I received a text message from the airline announcing an hour-long delay. Taking  note of the new arrival time, I calculated that I would have less than a half hour to change terminals and get to the new gate.

Once we departed North Carolina, the older couple seated in front of me began waving their boarding passes to get the attention of the flight attendant. I could hear the stress in their voices as they explained that they, too, had less than a half hour to deplane and get to a different terminal for their connecting flight to Dallas. They were concerned about navigating the large, bustling airport and wanted to know what they should do if they missed the flight.

I leaned over their seats to confirm that we were on the same flight from Atlanta to Dallas then offered to help them find their way to the new gate. The flight attendant seemed relieved, and the couple grinned and thanked me as if I had offered them a free trip to Hawaii.

Once the plane landed, we chatted while we waited to deplane since we were seated at the back. They were going to Dallas to see their young adult granddaughter who had just returned from an international internship. When we finally got to the jet bridge, they had to wait for their valet-checked bags. I glanced at the time, only fifteen minutes to make our next flight.

With their bags in tow, we hurriedly made our way through the crowded terminal and down the escalator to the interterminal train. The older man barely made it on board before the door closed, trapping his rolling luggage. His face reddened as the automated voice announced that someone was blocking the door. People stared. The door re-opened and he quickly yanked the bag inside.  Then the train lunged forward, causing him to lose his balance. I grabbed his arm and steadied him.

After several stops, we reached our terminal. We rushed out of the train, up the escalator and past a number of other gates before arriving at our gate. The last group of the passengers was boarding, but we had made it in time. Feeling relief, the older couple thanked me again.

“We’d only do this for our granddaughter,” the woman said with a sigh, followed by a soft laugh.

Sitting on the plane, I replayed the whole encounter in my mind. It made me think of the time that my mother, never a fan of amusement park rides, rode in a cage that turned upside down and moved around like a Ferris wheel, just because my daughter wanted her grandmother as a riding partner. I thought, too, of the times my grown son, now a professional chef, introduced my father to new foods like monster burritos and duck confit.

The point is: grandparents are usually willing to get out of their comfort zone for their grandkids. They are willing to be inconvenienced and to step into unfamiliar territory if they believe it benefits their relationship with their younger loved ones.

This is an important lesson for the church.

Like the grandparents at the airport, older adults are willing to face uncomfortable changes when important relationships are at stake. They will expend great amounts of energy, time and resources to invest in the young lives they love.

Imagine what would happen if older adults began to think of the younger people in their church as surrogate grandchildren instead of nameless kids wearing flip-flops and tending their smart phones. What if they were offered opportunities to learn about the interests and daily challenges of the young people?

Think of how the church might be strengthened if young people made an intentional effort to reach out to older adults and build relationships with them, not to mock them. Then what if they invited older adults to step outside their comfort zone? What message would it send if the younger people stepped outside their comfort zone to be with those older adults? Surrogate grandparenting works both ways when these youth benefit as much as the elders.

If the church is really interested in bringing the generations together, it would do well to consider the power of the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.  You might be surprised at what those balding and graying heads are willing to do!

 

Ms. Buchanan, a member of FUMC Rockwall, Texas, is the author of several books, including the new Joy Boosters: 120 Ways to Encourage Older Adults. Reach her at: missy@missybuchanan.com.

Missy Buchanan, UMR Columnist

Missy Buchanan is a sought-after speaker on topics of older adult ministry and spiritual creativity, she brings passion and humor to many events for churches, organizations, and women’s groups. She has appeared on Good Morning America with co-host Robin Roberts and is the author of books including Living with Purpose in a Worn-Out Body: Spiritual Encouragement for Older Adults, Talking with God in Old Age: Meditations and Psalms, and Don’t Write My Obituary Just Yet: Inspiring Faith Stories for Older Adults. She has written for many publications including Presbyterians Today, Mature Years, Christian Association Serving Adults Ministries, Entrepreneur, and The Dallas Morning News.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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