This message was written by The Rev. Dr. Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.
There was a story in the Anglican Montreal newspaper that recently caught my eye. It’s about Hazel Livingstone, a long-time parishioner at St. Mark’s Anglican Church in St. Laurent, and Matthew Farag, a sixth-grade student and parishioner at St. Peter’s Anglican Church. Several years ago, when St. Mark’s and St. Peter’s merged into a single congregation, Hazel and Matthew met each other and became friends. When Hazel moved into a seniors’ residence last year, Matthew would continue to visit her. Hazel told Matthew about what it was like to grow up in Little Burgundy in Montreal as a playmate of Oscar Peterson and how she was a lunch monitor for 30 years at the school Matthew now attends. When Matthew was given an assignment to write an essay about a hero in his community, he wrote about Hazel and the essay won first prize in a province-wide essay competition.
There’s two things I like about this story. First, it is a reminder that churches are one of the few places in society in which inter-generational friendships can be formed and nurtured. I did the field education placement of my M.Div. degree in an African-Caribbean church that had a steel drum band. What I loved about that band is how it brought together people of all ages, from teenagers to retired folks, for the purpose of making music to praise God. At a time when societies can feel stratified by generation, part of the diversity that churches are called to embrace is that of generational diversity.
The other piece of this story that appeals to me is that these inter-generational friendships are an important way of passing on the faith. Indeed, research shows that one of the key elements of passing on faith to a younger generation is to involve people who aren’t the parents of the children in the process. I know that was true for me. In the church in which I was raised, I can point to older people who took an interest in me, looked out for me, prayed for me, and stood by me as I grew up (and continue to stand by me today). It was my parents who took me to church. But it was people like this who ensured I kept coming back.
There are many ways in which the church is a distinct community from other human communities. The inter-generational relationships it fosters are chief among them—and it is these inter-generational relationships that are central to its ongoing flourishing.