The Surprising Blessings of Intergenerational Sunday School

Jan 17, 2023 9:00:00 AM / by Heather Blackstone

I had expected it to be boring. We were living in a pandemic and my Sunday school was studying Leviticus, over Zoom. I wanted students see how every book of the Bible is relevant, even the ones we think don’t apply to us, and Leviticus seemed like a good choice for that. It emphasizes the responsibility each person has in making sure their community stays spiritually and physically healthy. This seemed appropriate as daily we were hearing about wars over masks, quarantines, vaccines, and restrictions. Leviticus also teaches us to embrace the blessings and struggles of being God’s people. Case in point, this one Sunday, we were studying Leviticus 19:27, which prohibits Jewish men and boys from cutting the hair around the sides of their heads or the edges of their beards. This command was intended to visually set the Israelites apart from their neighbors, and it remains effective today. I screenshared photos of young men with the side curls called payot, and I asked what they thought it would be like to have hair like this. Did they think there were times when the men or boys wished they could cut their side curls off and not have their identity be so obvious? Furthermore, did they, my students, ever wish they could change their hair or feel that it was a liability?

An older man joked that he wish he had more. He was one of many adults who had begun logging on each Sunday, causing our youth Sunday school to become an intergenerational class. Comments trickled in about wishing hair was straighter or longer. One girl said she wished she had curls like her mom. Running her fingers through her daughter’s gorgeous hair, the mom mused that it was straight like her father’s. He had died when the girl was two. A Chinese American mom teased her 12-year-old who had been begging for highlights. The daughter yanked her hair, complaining that it was too dark. “All her friends are white and blond,” her brother explained. “Trust me, you don’t want to be too blond,” added a grad student. Almost platinum, we knew the projections she bore. A boy told us about his aunt whose hair had been straight until she had cancer. She had hated how her bald head announced a struggle that was so private. It grew back curly, a reminder of her illness. An African American woman told us about making an unexpected stop by her office with her hair down rather than in its usual bun. Her boss told her he hoped she would appear more professional the next time he saw her. As stories spilled forth, we held back tears while respect for those in our midst swelled and flooded the screen. After a pause, the students looked back with compassion at the picture of the Jewish boys, their payot dangling like beautiful but heavy name tags.

This conversation wasn’t supposed to have happened. Had we been in our usual Sunday school, in the room set aside for students of one age group, we wouldn’t have heard these stories. We wouldn’t have experienced God, once again, reminding us that connections occur and community is strengthened when we break through labels we have told ourselves foster community. As more and more churches are embracing programs designed for intergenerational use, congregants have unique opportunities to connect with people whose lives are different from their own. As we hear stories of struggle and faith, we are reminded that all people, even those whose lives are so removed from ours, are a part of our community, a community that is boundless, unique, and therefore set apart.

Topics: Sunday School, Intergenerational Ministry

Heather Blackstone

Written by Heather Blackstone

Heather Blackstone is ordained in the United Church of Christ and has worked in a variety of ministry settings, including churches, schools, and older adult communities, in the United States and internationally. As a Resource Developer at 1517 Media, she is honored to be able to create materials and provide support for those teaching and guiding future generations of the church.


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