Intergenerational faith formation may seem “new” to contemporary Christian churches, but it has deep roots in our Jewish and Christian heritage. The call for one generation to share its faith and story with future generations is deeply embedded in the Jewish tradition. Moses’ instruction to the parents and grandparents of his day makes this clear:
Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the ordinances—that the Lord your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy, so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the Lord your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe them diligently, so that it may go well with you, and so that you may multiply greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your ancestors, has promised you. Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
From the first century onward, Christian faith communities have been intergenerational communities. Allan G. Harkness writes, “Ever since the development of Christian faith communities in the post-Pentecost era of Christianity, there has been a consciousness that such communities need to encourage and embody a genuine intergenerationalism” (Harkness 1998, 431). From its Jewish roots, the early Christian church maintained its intergenerational identity with all ages considered to be integral parts of it. “The church is all generations. From the newly baptized infant to the homebound, aged widow—all are members of the faith community. None are potential members; none are ex-members. Though some congregations may have no younger members (and a few no elderly), most have all five generations. And all are members of the Body” (Koehler, 10). Intergenerational faith formation was an integral element of the Christian church from the very first days. The Israelites and the first Christian communities may not have used the term “intergenerational faith formation” to describe the transmission of the faith story and way of life to the next generation, but it most certainly was.
Harkness provides a helpful, contemporary understanding of intergenerational faith formation when he writes, “Intentional IG (intergenerational) strategies are those in which an integral part of the process of faith communities encourages interpersonal interaction across generational boundaries, and in which a sense of mutuality and equality is encouraged between the participants” (Harkness 2000, 52-53). Drawing on theology, education, and social sciences he makes a strong case that intergenerational learning “can contribute to the achievement of the normative educational goals of faith communities, which (for Christian communities at least) integrate the gaining of knowledge, holistic growth to maturity of individual believers, and the development of the corporate Christian community for its mission” (52-53).
(This is the first of a series of posts I will offer from John Roberto’s writings. You can see this piece in its entirety here.)