We sat in the greasy spoon diner, surrounded by an overflow crowd of hungry breakfast lovers. The smell of freshly brewed coffee, bacon, and eggs hovered over our table. Across from me sat a young man, presently in the midst of planting a church in a troubled, low-income neighbourhood in Toronto. As we discussed issues facing his church, I was aware of the incredible burden he had to face daily in his parish—violence, poverty, racism, and gang activity pressed in on him from every angle. A challenge indeed for a young man and the baby church he is nurturing into existence.
As we talked over breakfast, I felt the need to ask him about his marriage. Both he and his wife never had an active father in their lives. In fact, pretty well everyone who attended his wedding was in the same boat—a gathering of the fatherless. So this young man and his wife did not have a blueprint of how to make a marriage last. As he opened up about the struggles they were facing, I quickly realized God was changing the purpose of our meeting from church planting to marriage counselling. As the young man spoke, I began to smile and then laugh.
“What’s so funny?” he asked. “I’m sharing serious stuff here and you’re just smiling and laughing!”
I apologized, let him continue, and at the right time I began to share with him some of the many lessons I have learned through 27 years of marriage. I assured him what he and his wife were experiencing was normal. We concluded our breakfast with the goal of going on a double date with our wives. There was more work to be done.
Our churches need to be safe places where all ages gather together to share life. Old dogs like me need to be pushed and prodded by the young to see things in a different light and learn new tricks. The young also need the counsel of older folks who can share wisdom acquired from our triumphs—and our mistakes. Sadly, we exist in a society of churches that have slowly allowed the disintegration of inter-generational living. We have developed good programs shaped to meet the needs of specific age groups—children, youth, young adults, seniors—but in doing so we have lost the blessings that a variety of ages offer one another.
In The Netherlands, university students were offered free accommodations on one condition—they would live in a seniors’ home. Financially challenged students took up the offer and in time incredible things took place. Friendships formed and it was a common sight to see students helping their elderly friends with groceries or running errands for them. Seniors loved making new, younger friends, hosting them for meals, and taking time to see how they were doing. Quickly, an environment of genuine care was birthed between young and old. The quality of life for everyone in this community improved based on the relationships taking place. Many tears were shared between friends when a student would graduate and move out of the residence.
On a practical level, the medical system saved money as the health of seniors improved greatly. Depression rates for young adults dropped below the average for their age bracket. By living together something magical took place—all ages had a renewed purpose for their life and an understanding of their mutual value to one another! Love, care, wisdom, and practical acts of kindness were shared in such a manner that emotional and physical health was restored through a true intergenerational community.
As one of the young students said; “To share in each others’ lives is one of the best experiences I will carry my whole life as a young person. We bring today’s life to people who otherwise, without us, would still live in the past. In return, I learn from people who lived in the past, so I don’t make certain mistakes in the future.”
It may sound marvellously strange to have intergenerational retirement homes or counselling sessions taking place in dirty, run down, greasy spoon, breakfast haunts. But they please God when friendships are made, love is shared and life is lived together. A perfect model for our churches today!
COLIN MCCARTNEY is an ordained minister, speaker, and a bestselling author. He is also the founder of UrbanPromise Toronto and now leads Connect Ministries in Toronto where he, his wife Judith, and their two children reside. For information in booking Colin as a speaker, please visit www.connectministries.org.
THE ARTICLE ABOVE WAS FEATURED IN THE JANUARY 2017 ISSUE OF SEVEN MAGAZINE.