By Becky Ahlberg
Back in 1995, Anaheim (California) First Christian Church made the choice to be a multigenerational congregation. That goal has been manifested in a variety of ways, including keeping our families together in worship, having a midweek family night, and seeking out multigenerational experiences.
One of our most enjoyable (and rewarding) activities has been our seniors banquet. It was birthed back in 2001 when our youth sponsors were blown away by the generosity of our seniors in helping provide camp scholarships. Our seniors have always been willing givers for our children; student ministries and camps, both winter and summer, have been at the top of their list.
Our wise student ministries staff decided the students needed to know these wonderful people who were investing in them and to thank them for their generous support, so the annual seniors banquet was born. The luncheon, scheduled around Valentine’s Day, requires our students to begin working in the fall for this very special event. There’s something for everyone to do, including the elementary students who make uniquely individual place mats! The point is to work together to provide a special event that centers on making Valentine’s Day truly a celebration of love. Over the years it has grown into a much anticipated, creatively inspiring experience for all involved.
It begins with really nice invitations mailed to all the seniors in our congregation. They also get a follow-up call encouraging them to come and offering transportation or other assistance. There is menu planning, training for servers and valet parkers, creative decorating, food preparation (and an education in what a senior thinks is a great meal!), and all the things that go into making a lovely event and making guests feel special. But there is also a great deal of effort put into the “entertainment.”
The program has included handbell concerts (with the junior high bell group), special sing-alongs, skits, and stories. One of the most famous and entertaining experiences has been Senior Jeopardy, which planners dreamed up on their own! Senior Jeopardy features a full “wall” of categories and hilarious “answers.” Rumor has it that thinking up the questions and answers might be as much fun as actually playing the game.
There are questions just for the kids, questions just for the seniors, and some questions for everyone . . . and it includes the ubiquitous little timing tune that everyone knows. All that’s missing is Alex Trebek!
It’s not unusual for answers to require an explanation—there’s a story behind an answer that only the seniors or only the kids know. It may take longer, but no one minds. It is definitely an endorphin day with smiling and laughing and hugging all around.
But perhaps the best thing about the seniors banquet is how it has brought these two generations together. It gives everyone a chance to get to know one another and a reason to connect throughout the rest of the year. It’s not unusual for our seniors to attend the music and sports events of the students. The students feel free to talk—and hug—their senior friends when they see them. They actually like each other! The generational walls that so often keep them apart just don’t exist, and it has been a blessing to our whole church.
Becky Ahlberg serves as executive director of My Safe Harbor in Anaheim, California.