Multigenerational Services

by Amanda Alice Uluhan, RE Programs Coordinator

We’ve been talking a lot about how we can include everyone, of all ages, learning styles, and identities in our services. Our congregation, like any community, is constantly changing. We grow and age, families transform, newcomers are welcomed, and we are, such as life, being regenerated and reborn with a regularity that can be embraced and cherished.

In creating multigenerational services, the goal is to provide a space in which our entire community locates itself in our beautiful and sacred Sanctuary. Children, youth, families, visitors, and members alike, can experience the power of song, story, and sharing together on these special Sunday mornings. The church space can and often does become another home, a space in which we are often emotional, and can be together in a safe and shared way. At East Shore, we want all members of our community to have participatory access to this. This fosters the meaningful connections that become the foundation of a community and welcomes the neighbor and stranger into that meaning.

Multigenerational services are a time to learn more about the traditions of our faith, celebrate holidays, create ceremony across the generations. They also celebrate our future. Multigenerational services gather together all of our community in one room. It is a rare opportunity. We have babies, toddlers, young children; we have tweens, teens, and young adults; we have thirty-somethings, forty-somethings, and fifty-somethings; we have retirees, and elders. We truly are an multigenerational community, and multigenerational services are a time to cherish and revel in that. Our principles compel us toward empathy, compassion, and  reaching out. This resonates all the more profoundly when the whole church shares worship together.

One of the goals of Lifelong Learning is to find ways to turn our children and youth into lifelong UUs. Most weeks, curricula have the young people in classes with teachers who volunteer their time and talent. Children learn our principles and our history, they light chalices, tell stories, and sing songs, learning about the ethics and sense of wonder at the heart of our faith.

Some weeks at the 11:00 a.m. service, children and youth join the adults in worship. This is a time to participate in the larger congregation and have a space to engage in the sacred with their families and neighbors. We hope everyone will get the most out of multigenerational services. It may take some time to learn about how to participate in these services. And our expectations may need to be tempered. May these services be an opportunity of curiosity for giving.

“Prayer for Living in Tension” by Joseph M. Cherry
If we have any hope of transforming the world and changing ourselves,
we must be bold enough to step into our discomfort,
brave enough to be clumsy there,
loving enough to forgive ourselves and others.
May we, as a people of faith, be granted the strength to be
so bold,
so brave,
and so loving.

We have been reaching out to many families in our congregation to hear how multigenerational services have been experienced by them. Most families feel their children are getting something out of them. Sometimes they go well and sometimes they are more challenging and difficult for families. For those with young children, it can be very challenging to keep quiet and still for the whole service. Fortunately, for our church, this isn’t the expectation or goal. It will help to let go of the expectation that children will do so, and to embrace a spirit of joy and energy in our services. This will contribute to a culture of warmth, joy, and one that is truly friendly and welcoming.

Keep in mind there is no requirement to stay for the entire service. We also have other spaces near the Sanctuary that can be visited if a family or child isn’t ready to stay for the full hour. We have a preschool room in the Education Building, that is open and staffed with childcare providers. In the foyer of the Administration Building, we have nursing chairs, toys, drawing materials, and story books; here the worship service is played on a speaker. Children are in the learning phase, so understand it may take some time to build up to staying in the Sanctuary service, and that is perfectly okay. We want to make this Sanctuary live up to that word: a place where all are welcome, nourished, and sustained.

This article was inspired by the RE blog of Jamila Batchelder, UU Director of Religious Education in Columbia, Missouri UUC.

Interested in more resources about multigenerational services? Check out this UUA website.