iPhones and paper Bibles

He stuck his head in the classroom door like a substitute English teacher on the biology hall, looked at the well-dressed occupants and stepped back into the hall.  His Sunday School class of 30-somethings was to begin meeting with this group of empty nesters in a few weeks and Tony agreed to come by and say, “Hello.”

Re-entering the small basement room lined with metal folding chairs and opaque windows, he shifted his weight from one flip flop to the other asked, “Can one of you tell me where I can rent a suit?”

“And where I can get one of those paper Bibles?”

The group chuckled, some hoping he wasn’t joking.  Whose idea was it to sign up for this intergenerational Sunday School experiment, anyway?

When Tony’s group of middle school parents arrived for week one of the four week series on family, Glenda, a teacher for the empty nester crowd, grinned as she pulled out her iPhone and read that morning’s Scripture.  Touché.  At the end of the hour, when it was time to pray, the younger folks, interspersed among their new friends, stood and held hands, as was their custom.   They huddled like angels in khakis over Glenda’s class members who remained seated, as was their custom.

So began the adventure of pairing of 20 adult Sunday School classes of different generations to talk about faith and family.

You hope the most memorable moments from such an undertaking will be deep and sacred, and some of them were.  During a conversation on caring for aging parents, an 85 year old woman shared with a dozen guests, all 40 years her junior, how she softly sang hymns to her dying sister as the sister moved from this life to the next.  Could compassion and grace be taught any more fully than through that poignant voice of experience?

Other moments were far more ordinary, but bonded the new relationships of those who lived them with no less tenacity.

  • The “young people,” who hadn’t been called that in a while, allowed into the 1950s basement that housed the oldest men’s Sunday School class; a room no female had seen in at least a decade or two.
  • The laughter as 20-somethings and 50/60-somethings discussed marriage relationships.
  • The unabashed coveting of prime meeting space afforded by the seniority system, previously unnoticed but now tasted and enjoyed.

Initial concerns over details – sharing prayer requests, making announcements, and anxieties over teaching strangers and potentially losing class members unnerved by change, all faded as those first class meetings got underway.  They were not unimportant.  Community is never without its challenges, be they poorly communicated expectations or excess talkers who’d never before experienced the freedom, or time constraints, of small group discussions.

But a desire to make a large church smaller, to be known by people who were before just faces in the hallway, to have a sense of family within the church family, with all of its generational quirks and complexities, when one’s own family was miles away, these were the true longings that were satisfied in the end, more than for paper Bibles or iPhones, spoken prayer requests or written, suits and ties or shorts.

In our privacy fence culture, we’ve lost much of our front porch learning, the place where wisdom was handed down, without fanfare, to your children and grandchildren and anyone else’s offspring who was hanging around.  We miss that in our age graded Sunday School groupings, where we all have the same general breadth and limitation of experience.  We miss the mutual discipleship that comes from offering a hand to those coming along the road behind us, encouraging those who are struggling that it is possible to come out on the other side because we’ve been there.  The mutual discipleship that is refreshed by the hopes and dreams and commitments of a rising generation, securing the future for us in ways that money and medicine cannot, rebirthing our memories in new and lasting forms.

These are the things that a You Tube video just can’t teach you, (despite its versatile capacity to help both my nine year old conquer the lid of a SpaghettiOs can with a manual can opener and two of our preachers to tie their new bow ties.)

Discipleship is about relationships.  It is a journey that is meant to be travelled together – all of us, along the way.

How are you helping folks to do just that?

Jayne Davis

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About the Author
Jayne Davis is Minister of Spiritual Formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, N.C. She is part of the Hopeful Imagination ministry team, encouraging churches and church leaders in a changing world. Jayne is co-author of the book Hopeful Imagination and posts on Facebook at Spiritual Formation - Along the Way and is trying to learn to Tweet, though, being from the Bronx, is paranoid about people following her.

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  • vickster1960

    Amen.