Saint Paul’s exhortation in the second reading “to be united in the same mind and in the same purpose” should prick the conscience of every Christian. As I write this article on the birthday of the late civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and on the Monday of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, I am painfully reminded of the many divisions still lingering among us.
Racial hostility mounts long after the civil rights movement declared success. Religious differences even now separate believers. Political views on gun control, class warfare, criminal justice, and a host of other controversial issues fuel endless rancorous debates. Gender inequality persists, and enormous gulfs between mainstream and marginalized groups continue to widen.
Intergenerational friction is just the latest sore spot to emerge in the identity politics of our day. The clash between generations runs deep. According to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, much of the conflict can be traced to economic policies that have stifled the upward mobility of younger generations, making it harder for them to get a job, save money, or find affordable housing (Jan. 18-19, 2019, A13).
A similar tension runs along the generational fault line in many churches as well. Young leaders filled with gospel energy agitate for changes that often rankle older parishioners who prefer stability. New programs and innovative technologies also can unnerve senior members and make them feel left out of the very churches they worked so hard to build.
A few years ago on retreat, our own staff discovered that two key demographics coexist in our parish, and they are sometimes at odds. “Brendan, Jr.” and “Brendan Sr.,” as we lovingly call them, have different needs and interests. We came to realize that, although change is vital for a ministry’s long term health and growth, we must never forget the past or the rich spiritual legacy of men and women who have invested their lives in this parish over the years and have been serving God long before we were born.
In his book, Liquid Church, Tim Lucas argues that intergenerational ministry is one of the most critical opportunities for the sustained growth in ministry today. “Every generation—builders, boomers, gen X, millennials, gen Z—young and old, coming together and merging streams,” he says, will “create a powerful river that flows with new life and gospel vitality” (Zondervan 2019, 167). At St. Brendan, we are blessed with both thriving Under 5’s and Over 50’s groups. Over the next few months, I hope to explore ways for the multiple generations in our parish to work hand in hand.
This week’s episode of our new message series called, Common Sense, considers how the teachings of Christ have served to unify people across cultures, nationalities, races, and other seemingly unbridgeable divides. Join us Sunday for a dose of renewed hope in a divisive world.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson