The church I grew up in, a small church sandwiched between a TV repair shop and a donut store, wasn’t big enough to have all sorts of sub-groups, so when church experts talk today about becoming a cross-generational church, I have to laugh. That’s all I knew. When there were parties, church people of all ages were there. (And, believe me, that little band of New Yorkers knew how to party; I learned more than just faith–like how to mix a Harvey Wallbanger at a party full of church people.) When there were work days, adults and kids painted walls and doors side-by-side. When there were church picnics at Salisbury Park, we barbecued and played softball together. How else could we field two teams?
And when we worshiped, kids and adults endured the same sermons (an endless hour of them every Sunday morning) together. We figured it made us strong somehow. And it did. The faith stuck for me and my sisters because there was authenticity in this undistinguished band of believers. I remember how Mrs. Fife, our sixty-plus Sunday school teacher, turned, knelt on the floor with her head on the pew, and prayed, right there during the service. There was familiarity, too. We didn’t just know each other’s names. We knew each other’s flaws and problems and worries, from babies born with deformities to old people sick and dying. We teenagers worshiped, worked, prayed, and partied shoulder to shoulder with people seventy years our senior.
There are, we all know, far more distractions for kids nowadays. The church has to compete for their attention, so we separate them into their own enclave and occupy them with age-specific activities and teaching and worship and mission trips. But I learned the faith alongside older people. Like on Wednesday nights, as I listened to Uncle Willie sing, as he and I shared secrets, and as we laughed together in the second row of our makeshift choir stall. Uncle Willie never taught my Sunday School class. He never led me on a mission trip. He never preached a sermon (though I wish he had). Yet Uncle Willie sang and laughed the faith, not just to me, but with me. And that’s one of the ways the faith got passed on to me, in the shared giggles and the angelic tones of my older and wiser friend.