Any opportunity to bring people of all ages together is an opportunity to enrich the life of a church. That strong belief by United Church of Christ minister the Rev. Julie Yarborough is part of what fuels the intergenerational relationships that are formed at Christ Church's annual retreat.
This month, the UCC Faith Formation Ministry team is looking to the New Jersey congregation’s annual All Church gathering as a model for other congregations seeking to forge important faith-forming, cross-generational relationships.
"It certainly has brought the community closer together," said Yarborough, who pastors Christ Church in Summit, N.J. "It's great to have an event or activities that involve people of all ages learning together. Kids have a lot to teach adults, and adults have a lot to teach kids. And because we go on a retreat, we have an intimate way to build community instead of just meeting together for an hour or two."
The gathering takes place in the seaside community of Ocean Grove, N.J., from Sept. 30 to Oct. 2, when members and friends of all ages come together for a weekend of fun, friendship and the opportunity to meet God together.
This year, the wider church is invited to join Christ Church in the experience, and then, after a time of reflection and discussion, take home concrete ideas on how to replicate this model of ministry in their own church communities. This is the fourth year Christ Church has hosted a retreat. The first brought in more than a dozen people, and this year Yarborough expects almost 50 attendees — 40 of whom are member families at Christ Church. In many cases, families attend the retreat together, but even single adults and older couples have attended to build a relationship with the youth.
"There are kids who have been on the retreat who feel more connected to the church. When we have events at the church, these are the kids that tend to show up most of the time," Yarborough said. "We gather on Friday evening after dinner. People kind of come as they can, and basically its very informal, getting-to-know you icebreaker games and a devotion. Saturday is a full day of activities focused around a theme — one year we focused on hunger and volunteered at a soup kitchen. We finish up Sunday morning with a worship."
Yarborough said the event is worth attending for any church leader "whether they want to do an intergenerational retreat or just activities or worship at their church. Rev. Caroline Dean and I have led this for the last three years. We’ll have a packet of information on how to implement these ideas in local churches for a retreat, an evening program or a Sunday school program — however they want to use them."
A limited number of scholarships are also available, and more information about the event can be found on the UCC website.