In all the focus on the tenth anniversary of 9/11 this coming Sunday, we may be overlooking another observance that merits some acknowledgement: Grandparents Day.
Surprisingly not just another Hallmark-holiday, Grandparents Day was established in the 1970s by Marian McQuade, a West Virginia woman who tirelessly advocated for older adults, and made a national holiday in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter. McQuade intended the day for family togetherness and to teach children appreciation for older generations. With families living far apart as they often do today, the church can help fill the gap by celebrating connections between children and older adults both biologically related and otherwise.
Here are a few ideas to consider for this Sunday—or any Sunday this fall! The September observance (the Sunday after Labor Day) was chosen as a nod to the “autumn” years of life, and autumn is only just beginning!
Use the Sunday School Time
Teach a Bible lesson on Ruth and Naomi, or on scriptures like Leviticus 19:32, “You must rise in the presence of an old person and respect the elderly,” (CEB). Both advocate deference for the wisdom and needs of older persons and remind children of the value of older persons in our lives.
Devote the rest of the Sunday school time to having children make cards either to mail to their own grandparents or to give to older adults in the congregation. Given the difficulty children may have discerning older adults from those who might be offended at their inclusion in the “grandparent” demographic, consider delivering the cards to Sunday school classes consisting primarily of older adults, or mailing them to a pre-selected list of older adults in the congregation. (Shut-ins will especially appreciate the gesture!)
Recognition in Worship
As with Mothers Day and Fathers Day, Grandparents Day can be tricky in that we do not want to cause pain to those who wanted to become parents or grandparents but have not, or those for whom such relationships are strained. Grandparents Day includes the additional complication of age, in that recognizing all older adults (as we might recognize all women on Mothers Day) might be embarrassing for those who do not consider themselves “old enough” to be grandparental figures in the congregation. Besides, many people become grandparents at age fifty or before, further complicating any equation between grandparenthood and “old age.”
A better option than specific recognition might be a prayer or blessing honoring the worth of older adults and reminding us all to express our appreciation and care to the older adults in our lives. Similarly, a children’s sermon about valuing the wisdom of grandparents and “grand-friends” can be a blessing to the whole congregation.
Grandparents Day is a perfect occasion on which to launch an Adopt-a-Grandparent program in your church. Invite older adults to sign up to be paired with children and youth in the congregation. Middle-aged adults can be included as well—my own in-laws have been adoptive grandparents in their church from the moment they became empty-nesters!
Whether their “real” grandparents or grandchildren live near or far, children and older adults can benefit from the special relationships formed through such a program. Plan events that adopted grandparents and grandchildren can participate in together, such as lunches, zoo outings, and low-strain mission projects. Encourage participants to be in frequent contact and to plan their own outings (with parents’ approval, of course).
Take youth on a field trip to a local nursing home or to the homes of shut-ins affiliated with your congregation. Youth can read Scripture to the elderly, lead a hymn-sing, and simply be in conversation with older adults. Prepare youth with a few appropriate questions to ask, for example, about the older adults’ families, hometown, and favorite childhood memories.
Activities such as these should not only bring a smile to the faces of grandparents and other older adults, but teach children to honor and learn from older generations.