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We’re entering the slow summer months at church.

I love these months. Easter and Pentecost have passed. We’ve started having just one service on Sunday mornings instead of two. Our young adult group is planning more dinners out for our usual Wednesday night meetings. People are in out with vacations and lazy days at the beach.

But not everyone in the parish is taking a break–it’s also this time of year when we pick up our biannual Prayer Partner program.

Prayer Partners is just what it sounds like. If you sign up, you’re assigned a partner for the six-weeks of the program. The guidelines are basic–pray for your partner and check in with them every so often to see how things are going. It’s a low stakes commitment, and we’re a small parish so it’s also a great, easy way to get to know one another.

However, once you’re a Prayer Partner, there’s really no escaping.

The woman who runs the program is one of the church matriarchs, and if she asks you to do something for the parish, you do it. No questions asked. I think I was roped in my second or third month of attendance at the parish and I’ve participated every time since. She has a way of lovingly chiding you until you join.

Yet she’s also incredibly skilled at bringing people together and making sure parishioners who might not otherwise know one another get a chance to talk. It also helps that she’s one of those people who remembers everyone’s names at church and always greets you with a big hug. She’s like the church grandma–all of us are just an extension of her own family and Prayer Partners is one way to make that a reality.

Perhaps, best of all, she has a knack for pairing you with someone unexpected. Over the last two years, my prayer partners have been people my age, parents with young children, single people, as well as older people in our congregation. Some of us just text or email; with others, we’ve met for coffee or brunch. Past prayer partners have reached out to me months later to check in about a specific request I’d told them about.

The intergenerational piece is one of the most meaningful aspects of it all. I already know all the other young adults in church–we sit by each other on Sundays and hang out most Wednesday nights. But I have less contact with the parishioners outside my own age demographic or even with some of the other church members who have been attending for decades. Signing on as a prayer partner means opening yourself up to getting to know someone you might not otherwise.

My rector and I were discussing the value of this practice this past Sunday after the service. In the last few months, she’s prioritized engaging young adults in the work of the parish and encouraging us to take on more roles in parish life. Prayer partners, then, is a way to facilitate conversations between different generations. It’s accepting that you’re part of this odd little neighborhood congregation and that we’re all in this together–regardless of your age, race, or anything else.

In the days when we’re warned of waning religious observance among millennials, building intergenerational relationships in this way is an important practice for reminding us young adults that we are valued members of our parish and that we have a lot to learn from older members of the church and vice versa.

Allison Vander Broek

Allison Vander Broek is a historian of American religion and politics. She recently graduated from Boston College with her doctorate in history. Her dissertation, Rallying the Right-to-Lifers: Grassroots Religion and Politics in the Building of a Broad-Based Right-to-Life Movement, 1960-1984, explored the origins of the right-to-life movement in the 1960s and its rise to national prominence.

2 Comments

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    So simple and so good. I wish you had written this when I began in my parish eighteen years ago.

  • JoAnne Wagner says:

    Intergenerational engagement is one of the best things churches have to offer. The Prayer Partners is a great way to get to know each other. Sometimes it’s hard to get the conversation going even if both people are interested. When you think about it, heaven must be intergenerational!

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