by Andrés Castillo, communication intern
In January 2019, Finland collaborated with Spruce Lake Retreat to host the CrossGen conference at Spruce Lake, which included attendees from various Mennonite churches such as Rocky Ridge and Perkiomenville and a couple families who attended Spruce Lake’s family weeks in the past. CrossGen used the space to hold a Q&A panel and other activities that allowed different generations to mingle. The main stage speaker, Sean McDowell, a published apologist and professor at Biola University, shared messages and engaged youth, and many left the conference feeling that allowed them to connect across generations.
The turnout was great, but the lessons Finland learned from the experience were even greater. People were open to mixing intergenerationally, and some even looked forward to it. Through CrossGen, Finland was able to see not only where people stood in their ideas and theology, but that those ideas and theologies are not generation-specific. Another lesson they felt was worth repeating: when communicating faith in Christ, Christians should be humble, loving the person(s) and not merely getting their own arguments across.
Finland sees value in uniting generations, and have made it a common theme in their ministries. They hope to make CrossGen an annual event, but the congregation’s “Gen2Gen nights” have been going strong since before the conference, launching in September 2017. During these once-a-month church gatherings on Wednesday nights, congregants take time to worship and often participate in humanitarian relief activities, such as preparing supply bags for Ripple in Allentown or Rise Against Hunger. The point of these events is to strengthen family and generational bonds.
Finland also wants its members to nurture faith at home. “We believe God’s intent is not for us to just go to church,” Finland ministry assistant Colin Ingram states. “Deuteronomy 6:5-7 applies to a lot of what we are trying to do here, as it commands us to not only obey, but love God at home and on the go, as well as teach his ways through the generations.” This happens by equipping parents to pass on the faith to their children, intergenerational and family-oriented programs, and a “prayer partner” program in which youths are assigned a mentor when they reach 6th grade to pray, check in, and walk with them in their faith through high school.
Finland has also been holding Finland Faith Week, a week-long version of Vacation Bible School (VBS) held on weeknights for families, couples, and singles, that involves parents as much as it does children and youth. Ingram describes the program as “a combination of VBS, an overall movement of intergenerationality, and the idea of encouraging parents in practicing faith at home.” Finland Faith Week is not just “a day thing for children,” but a time for children and parents to strengthen their faith together, in the context of the whole faith family gathering to grow in Christ.
Through these different activities, Finland had been reinforcing the idea of not just attending church on Sunday. Their hope to keep CrossGen going year round seems to be realized, and they will be hosting the CrossGen conference again on January 10-12, 2020 at Spruce Lake, featuring Forge America national director Ryan Hairston as the speaker. As they move forward, they will keep experimenting with and learning about intergenerationality and ways that families can practice loving God at home.
Please pray for Finland …
- that God would continue to open doors for the gospel to be preached with clarity as we gather and as we go (Colossians 4:2-4)
- that we would know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 4: 14-19)