Clouds moving through mountains, sunlight streaking across yellow autumn trees, and grazing elks breathed their magic on us at the Cross+Gen Conference held at the YMCA of the Rockies on October 1-4. My husband, Dyke, and I went with our pastor, Chris Deines, to figure out where our congregation was heading after a year of trying the Cross+Gen approach in our rural Missouri church.
The conference grows from the brain child – the faith child – of Dr. Rich Melheim, and his dream of stirring fresh energy into people of faith and their churches. So many children who grow up going to Sunday School find no place for church in their lives as adults. As a young Lutheran pastor, Rich searched for ways to surround his own children with the gift of Christ’s enduring love.
Over the years, he developed a process for both home and church, “. . . not a way of doing Sunday School. It’s a way of doing life.” Drop a Bible reading “onto a table with costumes and food and glow sticks and food and paint and food. . . . Watch both people and the text come alive.” [2018 Conference Program, p. 11] In his series of books, Let’s Kill Sunday School (before it kills the church), he encourages people to move out of Sunday School rooms that separate them by age and mingle with each other across generations. The heart beat of his ministry resounds in connecting “the wisdom of the elder and the wonder of the child.” [Program, p. 8] I write this, knowing that Rich is not concerned about whether pages are cited, but about whether people are excited. I leave the notes so that those who want them won’t spend time looking for them. And you can find the wisdom/wonder phrase on the website, www.crossgenlife.org.
Rich promotes a 5-step process for bringing people together, beginning with sharing the highs and lows of their day. Mix in a Bible reading, conversation in small groups, and prayer, ending with those who shared the time together blessing each other. Rather than a prescription to be carefully measured, these steps are a recipe for each congregation and household to adapt to their unique circumstances. It reaches across the ages – 4, 14, 40, 84 – each finding meaning in relating to the other’s reality. Rich’s approach heals what was lost in brief Sunday exchanges. “Hi. How are you?” “Fine,” said by people too polite to reveal their hurts and hopes. At our church in Missouri, this model served in casual Wednesday suppers allows us to share personal stories, as our relationships with each other grow deeper. More like the early Christians who gathered in a friend’s home.
Conference attendees (clergy and lay people) came from large and small churches across 11 dominations, some urban and some rural, from the U.S., Canada, and Latvia. The speaker from Latvia said that when churches opened again in his country after 50 years of Soviet repression, Latvians crowded through the opened doors. Now, said Rev. Ivars Jekabsons, a generation born into post-Soviet freedom ventures into church and exits, not knowing how to relate to the church experience that dates from 1940. Someone in the audience said this generation of Americans also finds a 1940 museum inside our traditional American churches. Words like “Peace be with you,” so full of beauty in older ears, bounce away from ears that are more at home with streaming internet.
On the way back to the Denver airport, the shuttle driver asked what brought us to the Rockies. We said we came to a conference. He persisted. What was the conference about? This was where we had no way to tell a stranger the difference Cross+Gen is making in our lives. After we gave a brief description of intergenerational devotions, he asked, “How do you get the kids to go?” Both of us said, “The kids bring their parents and grandparents. The kids don’t want to miss it.”