At Unity Spiritual Center Denver, Colo., we celebrate a multigenerational community. We have some active members who have been an integral part of this ministry for decades. They have enjoyed times of thriving, and they have persevered through lean times of challenge and transition. Many of them were instrumental in building this ministry, and some have helped sustain it for over a half-century.
We also enjoy a thriving Youth and Family Ministry (YFM). Unity Spiritual Center Denver has long been devoted to supporting a strong program for our youth. We dedicate a large percentage of our space and commit substantial financial resources to our YFM program in order to support and encourage our young people to grow in the awareness of Truth principles. Of course, we would not have a strong Youth and Family Ministry without the parents. A growing number of younger families are joining us as well.
Our community spans the divide between the commonly identified generational categories to include not only The Silent Generation and Millennials, but also Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers. While we enjoy and appreciate the diverse perspectives contributed by such a broad spectrum of learning and experience, we are also presented with opportunities to bridge the “generation gap.” We are constantly seeking ways to support our people in connecting beyond what we often perceive as generational boundaries in order for our ministry to continue to thrive.
We recently launched a multigenerational Listening Ministry. Utilizing the Conscious Conversations model offered by Unity Worldwide Ministries in the newly-released Future Planning Guide and field-tested by the Transformation Experience pilot ministries, we formed a team of conversation facilitators. The teams include people from various generational categories. Our intent is to reach out to people of all ages in our ministry, either through group meetings or one-to-one meetings, and connect with “the heart of our community.” The team is trained to go beyond the surface conversation and connect with the person’s deeply held values. I highly recommend exploring this process.
Through a recent personal experience, I discovered the value of sitting with a group of people who are of an older generation than I and truly listening to and connecting with things that are important to them. Even though we did not share the same perspective, we were willing and able to respectfully hear each other and connect with our deeply held values. The lesson for me is, because we have different life experiences and grew up during eras of vastly differing world events, we don’t always see things the same way. We do, however, often share the same values, even though they may be expressed differently. The same holds true as we connect across generational boundaries on either side of our own.
Communication Thru Familiar Technology
In some ways the “generation gap” seems to be exacerbated by the “communication gap.” We do not all prefer the same method of communicating. We grew up in different eras of technology and innovation, and unless we continue to keep up with the constant evolution of communication media, it is easy to lose touch if we do not remain committed to bridging the gap.
Most Baby Boomers, like me, and those of previous generations grew up without personal computers, mobile phones or the Internet. We communicated primarily by snail mail and telephone, the ones that were attached to the wall, and later cordless phones. Today, my primary means of communication is email. However, with voice-to-text technology, I am growing fonder of texting. While many who are older than I are now using email to communicate, fewer of them text. They value a more personal means of communication, such as a phone call or letter. I frequently receive expressions of appreciation from older members in response to personal cards or letters I occasionally send, or calls I make.
I have discovered, however, that the same is often not true for the younger generations. In my attempts to connect about service projects and other matters with members of our youth groups, I have learned that leaving a voice message on their mobile phones does not always elicit a return call. Likewise, emailing frequently doesn’t work. For many Generation X’ers and Millennials texting appears to be the preferred method of communication. Facebook messaging also seems to generate responses from some. I continue to learn and adjust my way of communicating according to the various individual preferences.
In order to bridge the communication gap, we must be willing to be aware of, and sensitive to, each other’s needs and preferences. It is important for the younger generations not to assume that everyone owns a smartphone, has a Facebook page or an email account. Likewise, those of us who are older must learn to practice patience and understanding when we are unable to leave a voice message for a Millennial because his mailbox is full, or she doesn’t answer an email because to her email is an archaic means of communication. It is important for us to remain curious and open to learning new ways of connecting.
Person-to-Person Leads to Heart-to-Heart
Person-to-person connection, regardless of age, is the most effective means of communication and the best way to build community. It is vital to the success of multigenerational ministries that we provide opportunities for personal interaction between people of various age groups. At Unity Spiritual Center Denver, our Uniteens sponsor an annual program called, “Sweets for Seniors.” The Uniteen families donate (and collect from spiritual community members and others) sweets, as well as food and personal care items. The Sunday before Thanksgiving, they assemble gifts containing these items, along with love notes. After service, the Uniteens deliver the baskets to seniors who have submitted their names or whose names have been submitted by others.
One year, Angela, a Uniteen, and her mom delivered a basket to June, an elderly member. June invited them to stay and visit. As they talked, Angela shared her passion for ice skating and how much she enjoys her lessons, exhibitions and competitions. June was enthralled with Angela’s stories of skating. The following Sundays, June connected with Angela at church asking her questions and engaging Angela in sharing her lifelong dreams and interests. As it happened, the skating rink where Angela frequently skated wasn’t far from June’s home. When June discovered Angela had an upcoming competition which was open to the public, June was eager to attend but reluctant to go alone. She shared her desire to attend Angela’s competition with another member who also knew and loved Angela. They agreed to meet for tea and attend the event. When Angela saw June at the event she gave her a heartfelt hug and a big “thank you for coming.” Angela skated a beautiful performance. They made a meaningful heartwarming connection as a result of the “Sweet for Seniors” program.
This is just an example of the power of connecting. We continue to be committed to a thriving multigenerational ministry where we respect and learn from each other as we strive to bridge the “generation gap” and the “communication gap” by engaging in conscious connections whether face-to-face, electronically or by way of phone or mail. We welcome suggestions for ways that we can foster greater opportunities for connection.