Presbyterian Connection Newspaper
P. 1

 The Presbyterian Church in Canada • ISSUE 10, SUMMER 2019
Ministering to Children and Youth
 Please Pass the Faith
  By Tori Smit, Regional Minister for Faith Formation, Synod of Central, Northeastern Ontario and Bermuda
“My granddaughter loves going to church. We’re all there together; three generations sitting in the pew—it makes me the happiest grandparent I can be. My kids are doing a great job, but I often wonder if it’s all up to them. What should I be doing to pass on my faith to my grandchildren?”
“My children no longer go to church, and don’t want to have anything to do it. I bring my grandchildren to Sunday school as often as I can, and I tell them the stories of Jesus. I am so sad my grown children have walked away from the church. How do I make sure I don’t fail with my grandchildren?”
In my job serving as Regional Minis- ter for Faith Formation I’ve been asked a lot of questions by grandparents: grandparents who, alongside their adult children, share their faith with their grandchildren; grandparents who rarely get to see their grandchildren: and grandparents who grieve that their adult children have left the church and who deeply desire that their grandchil- dren know Jesus. Regardless of the circumstances, these grandparents all want to know how they can best pass their faith on to their grandchildren. It’s a wonderful question, and it’s one that I have a few answers for—for them and for you.
In the last couple of decades there has been a great deal of discussion surrounding the religious influence of grandparents, and the good news is that grandparents have far greater agency than was originally thought. Vern L. Bengtson, professor of social work at the University of Southern California, began studying families in 1969 by asking one question, “Why do some people adopt their families’ (religious) views, while others...strike out on their own?” Bengtson asked this question initially with 350 families
representing mainline Protestant, Ro- man Catholic, Evangelical and Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints denominations. And he kept asking that question of those same families’ children, and their children, and their children up to 2008. At that point he was able to draw some significant conclusions about how parents pass on faith, but also how grandparents and even great-grandparents pass on faith to the next generations.
Most significantly, Bengtson dis- covered that family bonds matter. Tell- ing the stories, worshipping together, following the practices of faith are all impor tant, but more impor tant than these is the quality of the relationship that children and grandchildren have with their parents and grandparents. “Without emotional bonding these other factors are not sufficient (to pass on faith from one generation to the next).” Two simple words summa- rize Bengtson’s decades of research: “WARMTH MATTERS.” Parents and grandparents who are unconditionally suppor tive, and provide consistent role-modelling of religious practices, and who do not force their beliefs or practices on their children have the greatest success in passing on faith to the next generation. So we all need to turn up the heat with respect to rela- tionships that invite conversation and affirm unconditional love.
Addressing grandparents in par- ticular, Bengtson points out that grandparents who reinforce or ac- centuate the parent’s religious so- cialization pass on their faith most successfully. Recognizing that this is not always the case, he then cautions that grandparents who challenge or subver t the religious socialization of their adult children are often ineffec- tive and counter-productive, leading some adult children to deny grand- parents access to their grandchildren. Likewise, he states that doing nothing also passes on nothing.
So what is a grandparent to do? Here are a few best practices identified
Children taking part in musical leadership at Briarwood Presbyterian Church in Beaconsfield, QC.
by Holly Catter ton Allen, professor of Christian Ministries at Lipscomb Uni- versity, that are uniquely reserved for grandparents:
PRAYER is the primary way grand- parents share faith with their grand- children. Children believe people who know God pray—A LOT! Therefore, if grandpa prays a lot, he must know God very, very well. In Allen’s study, one child declared that her grand- mother prayed from the moment she got up at dawn to the last second be- fore she fell asleep at night. She stated that her grandmother was the closest person to God that she knew. How- ever, just praying isn’t enough. Grand- parents lead by example when they pray in front of their grandchildren. Just talking about praying won’t work, praying in front of, with and for their grandchildren makes the difference. Likewise, asking your grandchildren to pray for you matters.
Grandparents provide continuity of faith by passing down family STORIES AND TRADITIONS. Take as many op- portunities as you can to share those wonderful stories that make us break out in gales of laughter and bring us to
Drawings by the children’s art club at Calvin Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
 loving tears; tell stories of baptisms, of Sunday school and church ser- vices “back in the day,” of wonder- filled Christmases, family gatherings, and those who loved the Lord and are no longer with us. Repeat family sea- sonal rituals from one generation to the next. In these, children are able to see that their grandparents know God. Special stories should reflect grand- parents’ faith journeys, teaching suc- ceeding generations how to live a life
consistent with family and religious values. Personal stories add meaning- ful coherence to grandchildren’s lives and offer structures with which they can frame their own experiences.
Grandparents share their faith when they MODEL FAITH. They become “God with skin on!” This is the best practice I often highlight when grand- parents do not have permission to talk about God or faith with their grandchil-
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