Richard Wilson
It’s all about belonging!

Many who come new into our church settings will speak of the family environment that they encounter. Churches might take some quiet pride that visitors feel this way as we often talk of being family together. The Gospel is for all people and in our Christian families we don’t want to differentiate between people on the basis of background, race, nation, gender, age, and so on. At their best our churches can be true intergenerational communities. However, this is not simply about having different ministries for different groups - our children’s ministries at one end of the spectrum and our work with older people at the other end. The ideal is when those of different backgrounds and experiences, young and old – and those in between – are integrated in practical ways, and where mutual blessings arise.

But not everyone is able to visit our church buildings. In the UK over 41,000 people live in care homes. The Covid crisis has highlighted and brought into greater focus issues of social isolation and loneliness as well as the pressures on staff and resources in our care homes. It is in this context that Truth Be Told (TBT) – launched at Gateway Church in Poole, but now a charity in its own right – has as its aim, to equip churches to bring joy, hope and life to older adults in the community and care homes. It sees itself like a drawbridge, providing local churches with ways of finding and engaging with those who are lonely and isolated in care homes.  

Although many churches have links with care homes, TBT is particularly encouraging churches to reorientate their toddler groups and to experience the blessings of children interacting with the older generation through storytelling and other shared activities. This can begin in the church but is especially fruitful in care homes where the experience of connecting toddler groups sees the residents come alive!

Inevitably, the COVID pandemic has resulted in some realignment of the ministry, during times when face-to-face contact has been restricted. Before Christmas we featured TBT’s Christmas nativity initiative when, from the safety of their own homes, the Truth Be Told Players were able to sing, dance and read together, on camera. Gemma Gillard, who leads the work, reports of the success of the Christmas outreach which resulted in; 114 individuals, care homes, organisations and churches registering to watch via the website, 200 DVDs printed (139 sent to care homes and 61 to churches), as well as 2,700 viewings of the trailer of the initiative on social media. TBT dedicated the nativity video to care home staff across the UK - who themselves have dedicated their heart and soul to residents, remaining at epicentre of the pandemic - and to tell the story of the Christian message.

Since Christmas, much energy has been invested in developing further the format of the toddler group curriculum, increasing this from 7 to 14 sessions and with four different ways that can be used to deliver each of these sessions, depending on the restrictions in place for each care home.  In addition, a new programme is being piloted with a large care home provider where activities staff can be trained to share and tell the stories of their residents and then partner with churches near to those care homes, for the children there to perform the TBT stories back to those residents.

In all this the key is to make the truths and tales of Jesus tellable for and to all, regardless of age or stage. It’s simple and replicable, especially as TBT have been working with the Cinnamon Network for the last two years to make this social action project as transformative as possible. The desire is to seek churches who would be interested in exploring relaunching their toddler groups, using the TBT curriculum, to include older adults in their congregation and in their wider communities, or care homes.

The experience of COVID and lockdown in the last year has raised many issues, including the uncertainty of how people, young and old, will re-engage in community, and how quickly. In the short term at least, church gatherings may be smaller and it is still uncertain when and how care homes will be fully open again to allow the intergenerational interaction, in person. Nevertheless, Gemma senses a pent-up energy in many churches to start something new. Maybe a new intergenerational toddler group is the next step for your church?