Multigenerational Magic

Our necessarily abrupt move to multigenerational worship has caused me some apprehension. Children do as the spirit moves them, so the power of my careful planning has its limits. While I’ve been focused on trying to mitigate all the ways this experiment could go horribly wrong, I hadn’t yet let myself dwell in all the ways it could go beautifully right until this past Sunday, when I experienced a magic so unmanufacturable that I find myself suddenly very willing to trust this process.

One of our smaller members spent the service at my feet, giving me the warm feeling of being chosen even though it certainly had everything to do with my proximity to the Soul Work shelf. He was engrossed in pipe cleaner construction as our choir sang a song called Glenda and Lauree: Certain Kinds of Love. The song was painfully beautiful, about two women who loved one another in a time when their love was discouraged. 

The song was too much to bear. A dear friend sitting in front of me left the sanctuary to cry alone. The woman beside me audibly sobbed, as did I. Of all the days to be this achingly moved in the service, did it have to be the day I couldn’t flee because I’d committed to sitting here at the Soul Work shelf in case a wee one needed help cutting yarn? 

The child at my feet occasionally looked up at the two of us ugly-crying above him, all snotty and wet-faced, but he didn’t look distressed. Near the end of the song, I put my arm around the woman beside me. You can only cry with someone for so long without at least sharing a half hug. When I let go, the child stood up, leaned in with a hand on my knee, and whispered, “I know it’s sad. It’s really sad,” and then went back to work on his pipe-cleaner creation. 

How different his experience in the world is from the one I was given as a child! I seldom saw adults in my life cry, and when I did, they made every effort to hide it, to protect me from witnessing big emotions, as if feelings were something shameful. What might it be like to grow up in a world where you feel what you feel out loud, and let your people sit with you in that? To not have to figure that out as an adult, but to just always know it? 

Some of us talked about it afterward, the way he participated in the tending of his fellow community members, not only as a child who was learning about how to be in community but as one of us, seeing grief and acknowledging it. And maybe even as a teacher. He didn’t, as many adults have a habit of doing, try to fix it or say it would be okay. He simply said, “I know. I know,” which is all most of us really want when we’re feeling big feelings. 

So I saw the magic of multigenerational worship with my own eyes and heart, as did several folx seated near the Soul Work shelf. Were there distractions? Yep. But the impromptu learning community that explored our shared humanity near the back corner felt more transformative than any sermon or RE lesson. It appeared to be less remarkable to the child than to us adults. We’re still talking about it days later over coffee and during commercial breaks. Perhaps it will be the adults who have the most to gain from this summer in service with our children. If this is what we have to look forward to, even only once in a while, I’m here for it!

*This story and image was shared with permission from the child’s family, who asked that his name not be used online.