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CHRISTIAN FORMATION 1/1/19

Christian Formation - Part of St. Mark Venice 1846 by John RuskenThe Faith of Generations

By Ben Menghini
Director of Children, Youth, and Family Ministry

Greetings First Presbyterians,

After the rush of Christmas and New Year’s, you might think that it is time for a break, but the Christian Education Committee is plotting new ways to be busy in 2019. We’re putting it all on the table, from the youth ski trip and special children’s classes to mission and interfaith excursions and youth-led worship. The scope of our focus on children, youth, and families is so wide that we have asked all committees and members of the church to commit some of their vitality toward this mission.

“Legacy” is an important idea for a congregation that is committing its full focus and energy to reach children, youth, and families. As we make decisions we attempt to be aware of how the outcomes will affect the future of this congregation. What can we leave for the next generation, how can we equip them and leave them the resources to continue our tradition of faith? These are old questions that have defined the church for the better parts of its 2,000-year history. The questions of what an older generation passes on to the younger generation, and how, is a part of how we define what the church is itself. What stories do we tell our younger generations about who we are?

On the first Sunday of every month as we celebrate Lord’s Supper we recite an ancient statement of faith called the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed gives four signs of the church: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Swiss theologian Hans Kung says “unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity are therefore not only gifts, granted to the Church by God’s grace, but at the same time tasks which it is vital for the church to fulfill in a responsible way.” Reciting the Creed fulfills three of the signs prescribed: it helps us to be one (united in thought and purpose), catholic (meaning universal), and apostolic (following the tradition handed down from the first apostles). Indeed, the recitation of the Creed connects us not just with Christians from around the world who share the creed, but also with Christians throughout time; we share the words of the Creed with the generations before and after us as branches of a tree growing from the same roots.

The Church is what it was. Our tradition reminds us that we are not alone. Many Christians have come before us and have encountered difficulties while trying to be the church. We have the blessing of their wisdom and perseverance. Just as with the Creed, we are united with them throughout time, wherever we gather. Martin Luther reminds us that “anywhere you hear or see such a word preached, believed, confessed, and acted upon, do not doubt that the true holy catholic church, a ‘holy Christian people’ must be there, even though there are very few of them.”

The Church is what it is. Theologian Letty Russell says that “the church that is, needs to strive to be a community of faith in Christ and to struggle for God’s justice so that the present reality of the church can express God’s love and care for the world.” The holiness of the church is found in the present in the church’s struggle to establish a more just and merciful world through the outpouring of God’s grace in our ministries. The Presbyterian Pantry is a great example of the church becoming fully present in the community it is currently ministering to.

The Church is what it will be. This is the gift of legacy that we hope to offer younger generations. Letty Russell says that “the church lives by the promises of God’s future and celebrates those promises in its worship and its actions of justice and love in the world.” This is an eschatological church, which means a church that is always looking toward God’s promise for the future and acts confidently in the assurance that the church belongs to God and will one day realize God’s purposes. Although currently imperfect and frequently coming up short, our efforts are recognized and God’s commitments will come to fruition.

What does history and theology of the meaning of the church have to do with our everyday life in this congregation? How does all of this help us to be a community of faith that witnesses to the good news of Jesus Christ in Green Bay? The problem we seek to address is laid out by reformed worship theologian Hughes Old in this way:

Millions of us today have a sense of being alienated. We have a feeling of being left alone in this world, orphaned, divorced, or abandoned. The extended family is a relic of the past. We don’t even know who our neighbors are anymore… The best we can hope for is a nuclear family or a close community of friends, but more and more our social life has denigrated into living in isolation.

Our response to the modern world of isolation must be inclusion and strong relationships. A great testament to God’s love that the church can offer is to be a radically open and welcoming place.

For a church like First Presbyterian, I believe one of the best ways to deal with this sense of loneliness and to focus on the legacy of the church as what it will be, is to encourage the involvement of grandparents in faith formation.  Church Engagement Specialist at the Fuller Youth Institute Matthew Deprez says “the grandparent-grandchild relationship is unique since it is one of the only natural relationships that exist for individuals two generations removed.” The distinctive potential in this relationship is one that can thrive outside of Sunday mornings, and it is a connection that is sorely desired. In a study by Bly and Bly (2003) grandchildren were asked what they would change about their relationship with their grandparents, and a whopping 90% answered that they would live closer to the grandparents. Regarding the other 10%, the inquiry revealed that those grandchildren already lived nearby their grandparents, or in the same home.

Grandparents are exceptionally suited to influence the faith formation of their grandchildren. Storytelling and family history are important ways for children to form roots and feel connected and is at the very heart of their relationship with their grandparents. Grandchildren who have a close relationship with their grandparent will look to them for guidance, and the grandparent is then able to model behavior to their grandchildren, such as faithful church attendance or prayer. It is important for grandchildren to see their grandparents engaging in these activities, and it is also important for them to see that the grandparent’s behavior is genuine. Kids will sniff out insincerity and are more likely to hold onto behaviors that they sense come out of sincere conviction, rather than obligation.

According to researchers Weber and Absher, “Grandparents share about their belief in God through their histories, stories, and advice, while expressing their desire to be role models in sharing with their grandchildren the importance of work ethic, spiritual values, and family heritage.” Their research was focused especially on the mutual benefits of a close grandparent-grandchild relationship, which can also bring fulfillment and growth to older generations.

This is an invitation to leave a mark on the legacy of the church. What does the church of tomorrow look like, and does it have to tools it needs to seek unity, holiness, universality, and faithfulness? You get to decide.

In Christ’s peace,

Ben Menghini

(Image is Part of St. Mark Venice 1846 by John Rusken)

Last Published: December 27, 2018 3:49 PM