avril baigent is a catholic youth officer in the diocese of northampton. she presented a paper on 'intergenerational congregations: are they truly possible?' this opened up a really interesting debate that i think is pertinent to youth ministry and emerging church. she described two problems - in the catholic church congregations are not appealing to/catering for young people. whilst she expressed excitment about the anglican report mission shaped church and the permission it gives for fresh expressions of church, the solution of developing youth congregations (homogeneous units) seems far from ideal. avril said that she fears that the experience of a diverse community is missing from that tack and that the value of youth in the wider church is massively important for the rest of the church - if we separate them off we are in danger of cutting off an arm or a leg. young people also actually need adults to be wise mentors and friends. adults need young people to challenge them in their faith. but is it possible to relate between the generations, to develop intergenerational communities? the other issue for avril is that politically and ecclesially to develop a youth congregation isn't an option. if one was developed that would be the end of the funding.
having outlined some thoughts on what community is, avril said that sadly there are two main strategies to relate to young people in most churches - they are welcome as long as they become like and behave like adults (socialisation) and to keep the young people separate to explore their own spirituality (separation). socialisation has its pluses where it works - it's the way the church passes on its traditions and practices when it works well. separation can easily lead to extreme practices without good leadership. but neither of these strategies develop intergenerational community.
she suggested intergenerational community projects may have something to teach the church. they develop strategies for sharing across generations, recognising that the two most marginalised and entrenched groups are probably young people and old people. any project needs to have something of mutual benefit. usually a project works separately with older and younger groups and establishes ground rules before getting under way. is it possible to find practices or events in churches that could be treated in this way as intergenerational projects? stations of the cross is one example that she has seen that has been used in this way in catholic churches.
i liked the session. it is a massively important question. there was some good discussion as a result. i think the idea of developing projects to build relationships between generations is a great one. however i'm far from convinced that developing intergenerational congregations is going to work unless you can shift the power in the relationships so that young people are on an equal footing. but i do think it's possible to develop intergenerational church if we are happy to rethink church as the network of relationships between everyone in the community - but they may not need to gather together under one roof all at the same time very often! i couldn't help thinking of steve's picture of a church building that prevented everyone from meeting together at the same time - if this was where a church community was given the task of being intergenerational it clearly wouldn't have to focus around congregating together at the same time, but would focus on developing relationships...