Research like that of Vern L. Bengston in his recent book Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations lifts up the critical role of grandparents in passing on faith. This research observation is not new, but it is revealing that grandparents get this kind of recognition over the decades.
A dear friend of mine from Norway Oddbjorn Evenshaug, a former professor of educational psychology at the University of Oslo and leader in the Church of Norway, has modeled, spoken and written about the importance of grandparents for years. In a recent blog post he writes, “The importance of grandparents when it comes to building meaningful connections between past, present and future, can hardly be overestimated. It’s about identity, about belonging and roots. Grandparents narrative becomes an important contribution to identity formation.” Of course, one’s faith life is a critical part of that identity formation, one that is deeply influenced by the stories of grandparents that link past, present and future with deep meaning and hope.
Unfortunately, I hear congregational leaders routinely bemoan the fact that older people tend to shy away (to put it mildly) from contact with children and youth in our congregations. Maybe it is time to elevate our older people, many of whom are grandparents and great-grandparents, of their vital role to our younger generations. Let’s find ways to remind them of the spiritual elder role of grandparenting. For example, when congregations have a Milestones Ministry event like giving children Bibles, faith formation leaders can invite the grandparents of the congregation into this experience, whether or not their grandchildren are in the congregation. Their grandchildren may live hundreds or thousands of miles away, but through the Milestones Ministry event, they can be encouraged to give their grandchildren Bibles and teach them some simple ways of using a Bible on a regular basis. I am confident that these same grandparents will be a gift to children in their local congregations, a gift that will also bless our older congregational members as well.
I am guessing our grandparents are a largely untapped resource in our congregations and in our homes. Since many grandparents grieve over the fact that their children and grandchildren are no longer connected with a congregation, they are highly motivated to see changes in the faith life within their families. A congregation can lift up the role of these grandparents and equip them with resources and strategies (including storytelling) to bless their children and grandchildren with the identify formation of the Christian faith.
Let’s help our grandparents identify how they make a difference in the life of faith of grandchildren (and other children, too). Grandparents have been and continue to be identity formers, valued storytellers, and effective evangelists of the church.
How does your congregation equip grandparents? If you are part of the grandparent generation, how have you been equipped and encouraged to pass along faith, identify formation, family stories, and cherished roots to children and youth?