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Who and what are grandparents? Biologically, they are the parents of young people's parents. Sociologically, at least in many traditional cultures, they are the elders, those older people who are revered as the keepers of wisdom. They are often entrusted with major childcare responsibilities, and that gives them a unique opportunity to influence and guide their young charges.
In North America's current youth-glorifying culture, grandparents are sometimes viewed as those who have been left behind, who can't keep up with change. It is common for North American grandparents and grandchildren to live with geographic distance between them. Many of them make the best of exciting and exhausting periodic visits and electronic connections such as emails, social networks, and video chat tools.
For Christians, however, family is more than biological. Jesus redefined family as those who seek and do God's will (Mark 3:34-35). In his last actions on the cross, he created a brand new configuration of family when he named John as the son for his mother, Mary (John 19:26-27). The cross brings the family of Jesus and the disciples of Jesus together, forging a new kind of family. In the book of Acts we read that Jesus' siblings and mother have all claimed a place in the early church, in this reconfigured family of God. Claiming our place in the family of God today opens untapped potential for young people and older people to find each other as spiritual grandparents and grandchildren.
As we seek new and faithful ways of being the church, and to satisfy our needs for relationships across generations, our congregations build family connections through various activities. Intergenerational game nights, storytelling events, and service projects help us get to know and bless each other. In one congregation, a senior woman wanted to help the youth pastor so he asked her to become a prayer ally for one of the congregation's youth. This commitment grew into a ministry across generations. Youth compiled autobiographies with pictures and gave them to seniors who wished to become their friends and prayer supporters. In another congregation, several sets of grandparents whose children and grandchildren live far away made connections with young families who don't have local grandparents. They now relate to each other much like biological families. When my grandchildren moved away for a year, I responded to my own "empty lap syndrome" by teaching a preschool Sunday school class.
God wants us to be in healthy, affectionate relationships with people across the generational spread so that we can be blessed by the unique experiences and perspectives of each age group. Our congregations are a great place to foster such relationships. As we do so, we align with God's intentions for the church and the relational health of God's family is nurtured.
Sometimes relating to our grandchildren and the church's grandchildren overlaps. An eleven year old urban boy told me that he felt closest to God when he was in church with his grandparents in a rural Saskatchewan village. "There were more old people there and they knew so much about God," he said.
Our world and our churches need more grandparents like that.
This book is for older people who wish to grow into such grandparents, whether they seek to fill that role in the lives of their biological grandchildren or in the lives of other young people in their church community. Younger adults may also find this book useful to gain insight into their children's faith development and into their own role in restoring the home as a domestic church. It could help them anticipate their own grandparenting. They might want to pass it on to an older mentor or relative after adding their comments in the margins.
May these reflections find resonance with people of faith who want to serve in grandparenting roles, and with all those who have a heart for passing on a legacy of faith to younger generations.