Intergenerational Faith Formation

by | Feb 28, 2018 | Vibrant Faith

I never imagined a movie could have a tremendous impact on every generation in my church. That is until we went to see Marvel’s Black Panther together.

Perhaps you are not someone who is well versed (or even particularly interested) in the newest Marvel Comic Universe craze that has taken audiences by storm throughout the Diaspora, but if you’re interested at all in intergenerational faith formation, keep reading.

“Most congregations are multigenerational by membership. Some are intentionally intergenerational. They make their intergenerational character a defining feature of their community life, ministries, and faith formation. These churches make it a priority to foster intergenerational relationships, faith sharing, and storytelling; to incorporate all generations in worship; to develop service projects that involve all ages; and to engage all generations in learning together. For these churches, being intergenerational is a way of life. It is an integral element of their culture. It is who they are!”

In their seminal text on Black religious life, C. Eric Lincoln and Lawrence Mamiya remind us that “one the most important functions that black churches performed for young people was to provide a place where they could meet older adults, men and women, who could serve as role models for them.” At the core, the essence of the institutional and historic Black Church, has always been intergenerational.

“Big mama and ‘em” arrive early to the church house, with excitement, love and anticipation, to cook breakfast for families before Sunday School. “Old Brother Mister” strums out a soulful gospel tune on the guitar, while “little Johnny” who may have just barely made it out of the nightclub in time for Sunday morning service beats the drums in a syncopated beat that carries the service “into the holies of holies.” Black Church worship has always been intergenerational.

It is the intergenerational experience that is common to Black religious life that makes Black Panther an invaluable resource for faith formation in the twenty-first century. In cinematographic form, the cast of Black Panther accessibly invites viewers into an alternative universe, filled with phantasmagoric images and ideals called Wakanda; however at the core, Wakanda is really what healthy faith formation looks like.

Without sharing too many potentially “spoiling” details, in Wakanda, both the active presence and articulate counsel of elders are imperative to communal flourishing. Queen Mother and Zuri are valued elders who are depicted as bearers and sharers of faith stories that everyone welcomes. Their generation holds truths- personal, practical, and poignant truths- that are critical to the future of Wakanda. Yet the everyday work of Wakanda is led by youth and young adults, who have been raised within the tribal/communal families that make up Wakanda.

Young Shuri is literally the brains behind all technological insights that keep Wakanda running. In Wakanda, youth are embraced for their quirkiness and naivete. They don’t gloss over traditional beliefs about life and death; faith, memory, story and ancestry (and, if we’re honest a lot of patriarchy) are all important to the Wakandan legacy. When this legacy is challenged by external influences, steeped in personal prosperity and power, the future of Wakanda hangs in the balance. It is up to a mighty trinity, led by a young king and two distinctively different, but both very wise young women who “for the love of Wakanda” use their gifts, talents and expertise for the sake of their community.

Jürgen Moltmann puts it this way, “no life can be understood from its own standpoint alone. As long as it lives, it exists in living relationships to other lives, and therefore in contexts of time and with perspectives of hope.” 3 Perhaps the success of Black Panther, much like the flourishing of a healthy intergenerational church, occurs when we consider the expansive possibilities in places that honor “contexts of time” and “perspectives of hope” from varying standpoints.

When I took members of my own congregation to see this movie on opening night, I had no idea that these themes would emerge. Organically though, this movie availed itself as a fuel for sparking congregational conversations that span the generations. I have seen children, filled with wonder, as they contemplate their own identity in comparison to the onscreen characters. One of our older adult males, with eyes aglow with newness, has declared, “this movie has been life changing for me.”

These expressions of excitement and openness are ripe with possibility for delving into questions of faith and considerations of the Divine! Isn’t this what we hope to experience as we sojourn with one another in this beautiful journey we call Christian experience?

Not sure how to use Black Panther (or movies in general) in your intergenerational faith formation?

Consider the following ideas:

– Encourage families to watch movies together and talk about faith related themes that emerge. If you choose Black Panther, here’s a study guide produced by Trinity United Church of Christ.

– Do you have young people who are excited about technology? Do you have older members who are relatively clueless, but interested in the newest gadget? Consider hosting a lunch and learn with a technology emphasis where youth demonstrate how to navigate a smart phone? Social media app?

Do you have other suggestions? Does this article resonate with you? Keep the conversation going in the comments.

Author: Reverend Shonda Nicole Gladden, Vibrant Faith Coach Consultant

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