Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Blessing Buddies build intergenerational relationships

September 27, 2011 08:54 AM
Blessing Buddies Todd and Jason

It started with a study. Research that Pastor Kim Wilson read indicated that children are more likely to be involved and stay involved in the church if there are people there (besides their family) who know them and call them by them by their first name. Knowing that piece of information, Pr. Wilson decided to create Blessing Buddies, an intentional ministry to build intergenerational relationships between Sunday School kids and older adults.


“We’re only in worship for an hour on Sunday mornings—we don’t get the chance to deepen the relationships then,” said Pr. Wilson, who began pairing Sunday School students with active adults in her former congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Baldwin. The idea was that then kids would know someone else in church, someone who would greet them by name. It was also valuable for families in which grandparents may live across the country and the kids weren’t as close to their extended families. The program became so popular and made such an impact that Pr. Wilson is starting it this year in her new parish, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Glen Head.


A mailing goes out each fall, inviting Sunday School students to participate. The Blessing Buddies have two events a year, in the fall and in the spring, that serve as get-to-know you gatherings. Buddies may make scrapbooks for each other, sharing pictures of themselves, their favorite hobbies, their pets, their houses. Or the Blessing Buddies may team up for a scavenger hunt in the church, finishing the event with prizes and refreshments for all. Most of the supplies and treats are donated, so the costs are minimal.


As part of the covenant, adult Buddies are asked to pray for their young Buddies and keep in touch once a month. They may send a birthday card, give a small Halloween treat, send something homemade, or write a note. The focus is on exchanging thoughtful—not expensive—gifts. Parents of the younger Buddies sign permission slips indicating their commitment for a full year. The coordinator makes an effort to pair Blessing Buddies with a natural spark or similar interests—a retired pilot with a young boy who has a passion for planes, for instance—but often the rewards come from learning about each other’s differences.


At Bethlehem, a young girl named Kimberly was paired with Monica, an elderly Jamaican woman whose own grandchild lived far away. Monica had raised her children in the Deep South and the contrast between the Buddies’ backgrounds was striking. Still, their relationship became a source of joy and enrichment for both Kimberly and her family. Kimberly’s mother began lunching with Monica; Monica brought back a gift for Kimberly from her travels. When Monica passed away, Kimberly’s mother spoke at the funeral and Kimberly put a letter in Monica’s coffin.



Children at Our Savior's, Glen Head learn how buddies stick together and take care of each other during a recent children's sermon.

A challenge—though one that is sometimes expected—can be when the older Buddies die. It happened a lot. While it was usually a young Buddy’s first experience with death, “it wasn’t traumatic,” notes Pr. Wilson. “To experience death in the context of faith—because it was someone they knew and loved—built hope and was faith-affirming. And the adult Buddy’s family was so touched and comforted.” Many adult Buddies report being uplifted by their younger Buddy’s instinctive and trusting faith.


The young Buddies age out of the program when they begin confirmation classes. Some students find this upsetting, but they are reassured that the relationships endure—the friendships are for life. “It’s amazing the things that come out of it,” marvels Pr. Wilson. “It’s missional—it’s like throwing a stone in the water. It ripples out and you don’t know how.”




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