What older generations can be great at is having a heart to help a particular child or young person, having the pastoral skills to see when they are struggling and to help them.
Intergenerational, all-age, all-together, call it what you like this can mean different things to different people depending on our context, our setting, even our age! But what does this mean in the context of additional needs inclusion? Well, again it can mean something different to everyone you ask, but here are a few different ways we’ve been thinking about intergenerational inclusion that you might find helpful in your setting:
Intergenerational Inclusive Services
Perhaps the first place we look to see intergenerational inclusion happening is in our main church services; seeing people of all ages coming together to worship, praise and pray to our amazing God, while being community together. It isn’t about slotting a game, a puppet show, or a couple of children’s songs into a traditional service; it might not even be about a service at all!
It might be very informal, more about people of all ages and abilities coming together to enjoy each other’s company, to spend time together, maybe to share food, maybe to offer different opportunities for faith expression and development along the way, supporting each other and engaging with each other as family. Maybe it’s a bit like what church was in the beginning!
My friend and co-founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, and Evangelical Alliance council member, Kay Morgan-Gurr comments that “Allowing young and old to get to know each other in more informal settings allows relationships to grow as well as faith. It’s not just about Sundays. Intergenerational church is learning, worshiping and growing in our relationship with Jesus together, as a Church family.”
It could be loosely organised, an example being Messy Church SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities) which takes the successful Messy Church model and helps to make it accessible across a wide range of additional needs and ages. Using simple practical ideas to help everyone to understand and engage with what is happening, providing a range of communication methods such as symbols and sign language as well as speech, and thinking creatively about how we can all serve and support each other as we spend time with each other and with God.
Another option might be Scripture Union’s ‘Explore Together’ programme, which “… is a fresh, new, exciting and creative way to enable groups of any and all ages to engage with the Bible. It encourages the exploration of the Bible using natural learning preferences and preferred spiritual styles.” The programme enables people of all ages and a wide range of abilities to explore, learn about, and hear from God together.
Intergenerational Inclusive Support
Where intergenerational inclusion in church is done well, there are often unsung heroes working in the background that care for and support people of all ages with additional needs and disabilities. They get alongside children and young people who need additional support and provide them with the help, encouragement, confidence and care they need to cope, thrive and benefit from their time at church.
One-to-one support can be transforming for a child or young person, reducing the uncertainty and fear of the unknown… what is happening now, what is expected of me, what is happening next. Having a caring friend alongside to help and to explain what is happening, to answer questions and to assist with the range of needs that a child or young person might have, revolutionises church for them. The grandparent generation can be particularly good at providing this kind of support to children and young people with additional needs, and in doing so it helps the older generations to keep involved, playing a really important part in passing on their faith to younger generations.
They don’t necessarily need to be someone who can lead songs, organise games, tell dramatic stories or plan a teaching programme. What older generations can be great at is having a heart to help a particular child or young person, having the pastoral skills to see when they are struggling and to help them, being able to interpret what is happening and what is expected in a way that the child or young person can understand. They are great at being observant for when a child or young person might be starting to struggle, and they can be a supportive and trusted connection for parents/carers, debriefing at the end of the session about how their child has got on, what they have enjoyed, what they found harder.
Intergenerational Inclusive Care
Did you see the television programme ‘Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds’? One of the UK’s biggest retirement villages opened a nursery where the classmates’ ages ranged from three to 102. Their interaction was amazing and wonderful to see and has inspired others to think about doing something similar.
Bringing children and young people with additional needs together with older people has often been seen as ‘a nice thing to do’, but increasingly there is evidence that it has wide-reaching, long-lasting positive outcomes for both children/young people and people who are elderly. Age UK commissioned some detailed research called ‘Making Intergenerational Connections’ which “highlights the key benefits arising from promoting good relationships between seemingly opposing social groups. These social groups can (and do) include ‘the old’ and ‘the young’.” These benefits include “better attitudes… less stereotyping and less anxiety.”
With negative cultural attitudes and stereotyping, as well as anxiety issues, being common for families with children with additional needs, as well as the elderly, bringing these demographic groups together can have tangible and extensive benefits. Within the church context, exploring ways for both of these groups to spend valuable time together and enjoy each other’s company seems a great way to support and serve some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
Perhaps some of these expressions of intergenerational inclusivity could work in your church setting; the benefits are clear and the opportunities are there for each of us to see these benefits having a positive impact across our own church congregations, and the wider communities beyond… Why not give it a go?
Mark Arnold, Director of Additional Needs Ministry at Urban Saints. Arnold blogs at The Additional Needs Blogfather. This article was re-published with permission.