Monument to Hope

Hope4CE is marking the 20th Anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001 with a recorded service of testimony and reflection found here. One the generous people who submitted a video testimony was Chef Rossi, who also blessed us with this article on her experiences, as well. You will also find a file of the adapted liturgy we used for this service at bottom of this article for use in your own faith communities. We hope you find this as meaningful as we did. (Feature Photo is of memorial at Ground Zero in New York)

On September 11th 2001 I was a twenty-something year old chef with a new, but growing catering company in New York City. It was a beautiful morning. The sun was radiant, the air crisp. I was looking forward to spending time on the roof deck. Then the world as we knew it ended.

I watched the towers burn from my roof. Then the impossible happened. Like a deck of thousands of silver cards, the first tower collapsed.

I’d never heard the sound I heard after the tower fell: thousands of people screaming.

The empty space in the sky became a monument to loss.

A few days later, I walked to South Street Seaport. The security guards at Seaman’s Church, knew me from my time catering there. They yelled, “We got a chef!”

Chef Rossi at Seaman’s Church, Ground Zero in 2001

“Send her to St. Paul’s!” A fireman shouted.

They handed me a yellow hard hat and paper mask and put me in the back of a pickup truck.

The truck made its way through police barricades, ruined cars and piles of debris. The air was so thick with dust, it felt as though it were snowing.  It stopped in front of an old church.

Two flustered women were flipping burgers on two small backyard barbecues. They were only too happy to step aside. I flipped burgers all day, into the night.

They said we fed a thousand first responders that day.

I came back the next day and the next and the next. I roped in my friend Brian to help.

On September 18th, Brian and I talked about how surreal it felt to spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, at Ground Zero.

As we were talking, a man in an Army uniform with a long white beard started to recite the Rosh Hashanah prayers.

We’d made it to services after all.

The Army rabbi took out a shofar from his bag.

“Te-ki-ahhh!” said the rabbi and blew.

“She-va-riiiim!” sung the rabbi and blew three pulsating blasts.

The horn’s mournful cry rose up over the burnt wreckage of the towers, the paper and dust covered tombstones in St. Paul’s cemetery and the firefighters in the tent near The Pile.

I thought of the volunteers who took turns hiding in the wreckage so the dogs that had grown despondent from days of finding no survivors could sniff them out. Everyone cheered as each volunteer was found and the German shepherd barked in glee.

I thought of the silver-haired fireman who’d driven from Cincinnati to join the bucket brigade.

“Do you know anyone who was lost?” I asked.

“We’re all brothers today,” he responded.

I looked at the empty space in the sky.

“Monument to hope.”

Chef Rossi, writer, chef, public speaker, and blogger based in New York City.

Recorded Service Link and file of liturgy from recorded service adapted from PC(USA) worship resources for the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

Principle 9: Helping Others is a Deep Desire of Older Adults

Post 10 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

I love TikTok. It is a bit of a guilty pleasure.  Several times a week, I contemplate taking the video sharing, social media app off my cell phone because I can easily spend hours scrolling through one-minute dance and pet videos. But one of the reasons that I have resisted deleting the app is the unexpected intergenerational aspect. I absolutely love seeing the #over70club share videos dispensing wisdom, recipes, advice, and dance routines.

Many of the videos that pop up on my “For You” page are older adults offering encouragement and blessings for youth and young adults who feel overwhelmed by societal expectations and demands. While most comment sections on the internet can be awful and negative places, the comments on the videos of these older adults can be surprisingly wholesome. Ranging from “I really needed this message today” to “We must protect this grandpa at all costs,” the comments almost always offer affirmation and appreciation for the offerings of these content creators. In these small online interactions, I see something that our culture is hungry for: the wisdom, help, and the blessings of older adults.

In Malidoma Patrice Some’s The Healing Wisdom of Africa, she cites “the power of blessing” as one of the primary duties of an elder in the Dagara Community of West Africa; a responsibility that is only given to the old and wise. An elder’s assistance and blessing are vital to the functioning of the entire community. Bestowing a blessing gives the elders a sense of purpose and call in older age, while also offering much needed perspective to the younger in the village.

In my own work as a hospice chaplain, I have seen how this sense of call and purpose extends throughout the end of life. “I just don’t want to be a burden,” is one of the things I hear most often when I am caring for people in hospice. After lengthy conversations, I have come to see that the concern is more nuanced than it seems on its head. Underlying the fear of being a burden is also a strong desire to be a blessing, even when death is near. Plagued with life limiting illness, so many people still want to find ways to offer love, hospitality, and blessings to those around them and beyond. Witnessing the enduring call of Christ’s discipleship even for those in hospice care has been deeply inspiring and sustaining to me. With vision, care, and creativity, I have found that there are always ways to ensure that older adults feel like a blessing, not a burden.

While the blessings of older adults need not be contained in one-minute TikTok videos, I do think those short videos can be instructive for the Church in harnessing the service and gifts of older adults. One of our roles in Christian education can be providing specific, time bound opportunities for older adults to be of service that emphasize blessing, story, and connection. And a little dancing never hurts.

Zeena Regis is a chaplain, consultant, and writer. She worked in hospice and palliative care as a chaplain and bereavement coordinator for close to a decade. She is the founder of The Threshold Planning Project and is passionate about ensuring all people have access to quality and culturally-responsive end-of-life/grief support and resources.

Principle 8: Multi-generational contact for learning and relationships are highly valued by many older adults

Post 9 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

Older adults are not the only ones who benefit from multi-generational interactions. Faith formation research has begun to demonstrate how important intergenerational experiences are for people of all ages.[i] Often, though, our church programs are divided by age group. Prior to the pandemic, worship was sometimes one of the only activities in the church in which people of different generations regularly participated together. Multi-generational ministry should not be isolated just to worship.

How can the church offer more ministry opportunities that cross generational lines, building authentic relationships and benefiting all ages? Sometimes it’s as easy as seeing what skills or experience older adults have and matching those with needs in your ministries for children, youth, or younger adults. One church preschool has what they call VIPs (Very Important People) who volunteer to read to children, cut out and copy items for teachers, or help during center and snack time. The older adults love interacting with the young children. Special relationships are built that continue outside of preschool. When you plan programs for children and youth, be intentional about inviting older adults to participate in ways they are able. This could include chaperoning a mission trip, serving in the nursery, being a confirmation sponsor, volunteering to help a family with new twins, or writing birthday cards to the younger children in your congregation. It takes broadening our expectations of who can serve in particular ministries and listening to the needs, gifts, and limitations of our older adults to find ways they can serve. You may be surprised to find that special life-long relationships are built between people of different generations through these ministries.

Churches should also intentionally plan ministry opportunities where several generations learn, serve and grow together. Your church might plan a church-wide mission day that gathers people of all ages in small groups to serve together. Some ideas are baking cookies for community helpers, sewing blankets for the children’s hospital, or packing “Gift of the Heart” kits for Church World Service. During the pandemic, some churches began pen pal programs with families with young children or teens and isolated older adults. This type of “Adopt-a-Grandparent” program can foster relationships that last for many years, bringing joy to everyone involved. Some congregations offer grandparent/grandchild camp, a VBS type experience for children and older adults (either biological or adopted) to hear and respond to Bible stories together, learning from each other along the way. One church offers “Sharing our Stories of Faith,” an opportunity for adults from 18-100+ to share their faith stories in a multi-generational group. It has brought together adults of all ages for deep faith conversations, allowing them to better understand those of different generations and consider ways to support and nurture each other.

What ways might your congregation intentionally bring together older adults with those of other generations to more fully live into the kingdom of God on earth?

Kathryn McGregor, Director of Christian Education at Unity Presbyterian Church in Fort Mill, SC. She supports both children and adult faith formation at Unity, striving to provide opportunities for multi-generational relationship building throughout her ministry.

[i] Roberto, John. “Envisioning the Future of Intergenerational Faith Formation.” Lifelong Faith, Lifelong Faith Associates.

Principle 5-Diversity of Programming Provides the Depth to Engage a Breadth of Situations and Circumstances

Post 6 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

This includes a great variety of housing situations, and “family” relationships

How does the church program for “older adults?” Joyce MacKichan Walker, Retired Church Educator/Pastor, Princeton, New Jersey reminds the church in “Principle 5: Diversity of programming provides the depth to engage a breadth of situations and circumstances,” (HOPE4CE website). What if the changes and disruptions of today are really “Kin-dom times?” Current day demographics, extended lifespans, and technology redefine for us what “Diversity of programming” might look like.  It can be diverse generational configurations, a variety of engagement, and point of access/engagement. Parallel programming for discrete segments of the congregation gives way to integrated programming rife with collaboration.

“Children and Family” programming no longer targets exclusively twenty to fifty something year old adults.  Adoptive, fostering, and multi-generational households have blessed the church with grandparents, aunts, and uncles being primary caregivers. Older adults such as Fred are helping with on-line schooling and learning through their nieces/nephews/grandchildren how to use electronic classroom software.  Perhaps the traditional “Christmas Pageant” for young children now looks like a zoom gathering where children tell the story and older adults such as Martha participate as sheep, lamb, angels, and innkeepers. Perhaps like Mary, who is in her spry 80’s, a widowed member of the congregation, drops by VBS to see if they need another hand.  She woke up and “the Holy Spirit just told her she was needed.” Perhaps like Margaret, a single and retired member of the congregation, one joins on-line Bible Study and Prayer Groups even though she may no longer attend in person – whether for reasons of a present pandemic or being more house bound due to mobility issues.

What the church knows for sure is that congregating is a form of communicating.  Programming facilitates that communication.  Whether we do so in person, on-line, or by mail the followers of Jesus Christ hold onto the early tradition of sharing good news through letters and other long-distance communications.  Current church programming which targets older adults, maintains connections irregardless of “ages and stages.” Learning and dependence are no longer limited to one age or one stage.  If Elder Mark cannot figure out how to “unmute” himself, odds are that the ten-year-old in the group can help him. The church is challenged to program for older adults by embracing the reality of caregiver and care needer, by seeing the reversal of adults as experts and engaging children as teachers, and moreover by finding new ways to communicate that our older adults are needed and able. Traditional roles are upended, as the gospel often tells us will happen, when the kin-dom of God is at hand.

Kathryn, “Kat,” is the Coordinator of Children’s Ministries at Second Presbyterian Church of Indianapolis.  She collaborates across the church’s ministry areas to create programs with a “child-sized-bite” of the congregation’s service, formation, mission, and worship. She is also a member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee.

Principle 3-Faith Formation Is Concerned with All of One’s Life

Post 4 of 11 in a series on the 10 Principles of Older Adult Ministry (banner image by Raul Petrie from Unsplash)

I work primarily with children and youth and in many churches with the budget, there will be a dedicated person like me on the paid staff. We are there to walk along with the young people as they begin their faith journey. We are there for the emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs during those important ages and stages. The things is, this journey is for life. It never ends. We are always learning, exploring, questioning, and needing someone to walk alongside us. As adults we plan a little more of that journey on our own. Gathering for Bible studies, worshipping, involving ourselves in committees with some Pastoral Care to help us when times are tough.

But what about those of us who are getting older and we begin to have varying degrees of mobility and energy? When we cannot engage in the ways we used to, how will the church walk alongside us then?

I know that in early retirement we often get a burst of energy in our congregations. People suddenly have more time to share their talents, attend Bible studies, and serve on committees. Then comes the next stage when mobility, transportation, and even medical issues can limit our involvement or may require some assistance from others.

I worked at a church who was blessed to have a Parish Nurse. I was in awe of the work she did. From taking tours of assisted living facilities with our members, to helping them secure in-home medical equipment, to driving them to doctors appointments, to setting up groups to share their grief, she worked tirelessly to meet the needs of our older members. Still engaging them and connecting them to their beloved community. It was amazing how many people relied on her and grew to love her so. Not unlike my job with youth, our older congregants may need a little more assistance on that faithful journey.

Creative Commons-University of Maryland

As churches, it is important that we are still meeting those important needs of our members as they step into a new season of their lives. This is why I think intergenerational ministry is so important. It feeds spiritual needs of all ages. It connects us to one another and to God. Faith formation is concerned with all of one’s life, but the needs may not be so different. As you think about your adult educational opportunities for the fall, I encourage you to think about ways you can cross the generations.

  • Older members make wonderful Confirmation mentors
  • Have your older members share their stories with your youth and children as part of Sunday school
  • Create opportunities for all ages to break bread together
  • Participate in a service project together
  • Have a monthly or quarterly intergenerational Sunday school
  • In our church we have 2 weekly caregivers, who members and friends of our church can contact throughout the week for meals, rides, prayer, whatever. It is a great way to connect our congregation while taking care of one another.

I encourage you to create environments where everyone learns from each other. Of course we have things like VBS and Sunday school where we need volunteer teachers. Those are always powerful ways to connect the generations. I also encourage you to create the above opportunities where we gather and are community together. Young learning from older and older learning from our wise young people.

Faith formation can be cultivated in many ways. Ann teaches Bella and Nash a new skill. Bella and Nash connect with Ann in a genuine way that creates a bond.

Faith formation is concerned with our entire lives. We are always learning and always growing. There is a woman in my church who plays the glasses. Literally has a set up of wine glasses in different sizes that she plays and it is incredible. My daughter saw this on display one Sunday and was in awe. The woman invited my daughter over to her home to show her how to play. My daughter is a musician and picked it up quickly and the two of them played music all afternoon together. My daughter was taught how to play glasses, but my daughter was also part of this woman’s faith journey. Spending time with someone who missed her own children and grandchildren and was able to share something that gave her so much joy. These holy moments can come where we are forming faith and we don’t even know it.

There are so many ways we can continue to form faith throughout all the ages and it may never involve a Bible or a curriculum. Get creative in connecting with our older members because those may be the ones that surprise you most.

Karen Miller is Director of Children and Youth Ministries at Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, NC and a Member of the Hope4CE Steering Committee

Youth Faith Connections for Mental Health

In a previous article I lamented how this pandemic had exhausted me. At one time it had energized, but now I was just done. Not only are we dealing with our own emotions and fatigue, we have congregations to hold up, including youth and children that have gone through a traumatic year.

Milestones missed. Grades at risk. Athletic seasons wiped out. Friendships lost. An entire school year that did not match any that came before it. This is a lot on top of the stress that the tween and teen years can bring all on their own. We check in with our kids and youth, but sometimes we do not have enough time or the right timing to get into the deeper feelings they are having.

In my ministry I struggle with assuming needs. I absolutely want to fill needs, but I don’t ever want to assume what they need. What I see from the outside may not be what they are feeling inside. A few years ago I received a call at 10:30 pm on a weeknight. It was our parish nurse and she was with the family of one of my youth whose father had been released from the hospital to pass away at home from a glioblastoma. They figured it could be a matter of hours and our nurse thought I should be there for my youth, an only child at 14 years old. I went into panic mode. What was I going to say? What was I going to do? This was my first touch with death from one of my youth with a beloved parent and it sadly would not be my last.

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Micropracticing

“What is the simplest this can be and still be effective?”

Over the last twelve months I’ve found myself asking the question above over and over. I’m exhausted by the realities of day-to-day living during a pandemic, and I’m guessing many families around the world would say the same.

As I was brainstorming what to offer for Lent in Vibrant Church Communications, the question of simplicity was front and center in my thoughts. As my thoughts tumbled around, the rough edges knocked against each other and smoothed into shape: micropractices.

directions for planting seedlings

On the surface, micropractices are simple. They are an action that can usually be taken in the moment or easily done at some point in the day. They follow the three pillars of Lent: praying, fasting, and giving. There’s an additional fourth category called “more” for practices that don’t fit into the first three.

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Puppetry and The Pandemic

I have learned many new technology skills during this time of physical isolation and virtual ministry. I’m sure you have, too. I’ve also discovered that I could reach back to skills that I haven’t exercised in a while that find new life in these challenging times.

One of those skills is the art of puppetry. I’ve always been enamored with puppets, since my time growing up with the likes of Captain Kangaroo, Shari Lewis, and later Fred Rogers and the Muppets. There is something magical that happens when you animate these pieces of fabric and stuffing into a living character with particular personality traits.

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FIG-Families In the Garden

Is your church searching for a family activity that moves slowly into an expanded social bubble while providing an opportunity for the congregation to begin to “regather” in person on your campus? Why not be a FIG and DIG?

family in the garden (003)
Children of God, of all ages, are looking for ways to connect beyond screens. Church activities have been fairly two dimensional in the last few months. Now, we are all ready to head outdoors and back to working together doing kingdom work with kingdom hands. Second Presbyterian Church is reviving one such project called FIG. The “Green Team” tends the Northside Community Garden to provide fresh fruits and vegetables to the Northside Ministry’s Food Pantry. They collaborated with the Children’s Ministries Team to include members of all ages. Three years ago, a program called “FIG” began.
“FIG” is a collaborative partnership between the Community Garden and the Children’s Ministries program. It stands for Families in the Garden.

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