Who leads the intergenerational dance?
[An open letter to Amy and Emma]

By The Rev. Paul Graves  | Photo By Wikimedia Commons, et. al

Editor’s Note: Paul Graves, chair of the PNW’s Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries has been designated to write this month’s Musings & Younger Perspectives column! Enjoy some wit and wisdom as Graves shares how both young and older adults can participate in the art of living together through the intergenerational dance. Happy reading!

Dear Amy (Pazan) and Emma (Donohew),

I write this open letter to you in partial response to your passionate and welcome advocacy of young adults in separate PNW Blogs earlier this year. I also write to you as “stand-ins” for other young adults in our PNW churches who seek healthier connections with older persons in their churches.

In July of 2013, the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries began our own conversation on the significance of urging young adults and older adults to engage one another in more significant and transformative ways.  (A few days ago we had Pastor Emma Donohew of Greenlake UMC join us for our COOAM meeting to share ideas on how we can do this.)

Allow me to reflect on your well-spoken desires for genuine intergenerational conversations.  Incidentally, did you know that the mid-14th century meaning of “conversation” was “living together”? That suggests conversation can focus less on “talk” and more on the acts of living together.

One of the wonderful metaphorical ways we live together is to dance. So please accept my invitation to join me in an Intergenerational Dance. (Hopefully I can keep this metaphor going in helpful ways here.)

Who invites who to this dance? That isn’t a flippant question! Amy, you spoke of a “lack of acceptance” of young persons — particularly LGBTQ people as your example – by adults. You wanted adults to “allow them to be fully themselves in your presence.” You said that well, and we older adults certainly need to be more welcoming of all young adults, regardless of how we label them.

But it might surprise you that older adults also need to be “allowed” too, regardless of who we might be. We too can feel a similar lack of acceptance from young adults. Maybe it’s a tribal thing. This isn’t a “blame” statement, but more of a confession that our reactions to young adults may come from a similar fear of “you” as you have of “us”.

So who invites who to the intergenerational dance is not an either/or question. Let’s take the responsible risk to reach out to each other with that invitation to dance together, to conversation that softens our defenses and allows us to dance joyfully together.

Each of us have so many different dances to share with different people. This reminds me of the important emphasis, Emma, that you made about stories. “Each young adult has a unique story that can contribute much to the church’s ethos and future, if only we would stop to hear them and let them be healed in our communities of faith.”

Yes, young adults have their own stories to share with older adults. We too have our stories we hope to share with you. So maybe when we choose to dance together, we can remember it is perfectly alright to sit out a dance or two on the sidelines, and just visit with each other.

We each have stories that are significant to us, regardless of our ages. But each of us needs to know that even if those stories aren’t as significant to others, we are. That act of offering significance is far more important than remembering the details of a given story.

Another word for that significance is “respect”. Regardless of our ages, Amy, Emma — and whoever else might read this — we all seek the inner reminder of our own worth that someone else’s respect gives us. We may not use God-language to describe that worth, but God is where it begins.

God has actually invited us to this Intergenerational Dance. Which one of us leads a particular dance may be important for our relationship. But I suspect who leads isn’t as important to God. But perhaps God smiles when we are ready to reach out our hands and hearts in invitation to dance together. Let’s do that!

The Rev. Paul Graves serves as chair for the Conference Council on Older Adult Ministries.


Morning Coffee: Unity (D4537)

This DVD is part of a series that combines a bold blend of exotic and interesting flavors (topics) to spark discussion about the basics of the Christian faith. You’ll be amazed at how easily conversations begin when discussing the following themes over a cup of coffee: making right what got all so twisted (Revelation), words that create–words that tear down (conversation and listening) and unity (in Christ there is no east or west). What can be taken from this study and applied to the intergenerational conversation or dance going on in churches across our connection? 

E-mail Ellen Johanson at ejohanson@pnwumc.org to reserve this resource, today!

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