This post discusses some examples of how grandparents can intentionally help shape the faith of their grandchildren as well as ways churches can help support grandparents in this endeavour. Today we have a guest who will share on this topic from her own experience.
Samantha, could you briefly describe who you are?
Yes, my name is Samantha Thomas and I am currently a mental health clinician and a part-time student in the Master of Divinity program at Acadia Divinity College. My husband and I have two adult children, and two grandchildren (2 and 5), with one on the way. We currently are geographically separated from our granddaughters by a few provinces. The pandemic has restricted our travel and hindered how often we can visit our family.
We know from research that parents play a pivotal role in faith formation. What about grandparents? Do you believe they also have an important role to play? Yes, absolutely. I believe that grandchildren are a blessing from God. As grandparents, God entrusted us with the responsibility to guide and encourage our grandchildren in their faith walk.
Recently, research supports the idea that grandparents have an important role in shaping the faith and spirituality of their grandchildren through everyday experiences such as praying, sharing stories, expressing love, and through the way grandparents live their lives (Allen & Oschwald, 2008, 350-351).
What are some ways that you and your husband are trying in order to help to influence faith formation in your grandchildren?
First it is important to note that although we do not live close to our grandchildren, we need to be intentional about our efforts. As Deprez (2017) states, “faith transmission can occur without geographic proximity; however, it requires intentional effort and creativity in finding ways to connect that being in geographic proximity naturally offers” (Deprez, 2017, 120).
Given that the pandemic has restricted our travel and we lack geographical proximity with our granddaughters, we have had to be purposeful in finding ways to share our faith. Examples of ways we have tried to be intentional are 1) video calls / social media 2) storytelling and 3) serving God together.
1. Video calls / social media
Similar churches needing to pivot online because of the pandemic, we had to use online and video calls to assist in our desire to help influence their faith formation. Video calling allowed for real time interaction with our grandchildren. We intentionally scheduled weekly video calls and took into consideration their ages and stages of development. Regarding social media, we created a private family Facebook group to share pictures and video clips that allowed us to share prayer, words of encouragement, scripture and testimonies of God’s goodness.
Grandparents could also use this method to teach and share in their grandchildren’s spiritual disciplines such as Bible Reading, taking time to pray and discuss faith with them and their parents.
Some tips that we have found helpful from our experience:
a) Being prepared for the video call. If you want to read a bible story, have a children’s bible on hand.
b) Share and activity together such as a snack or mealtime and pray with your grandchildren before the meal.
c) Schedule a call before bedtime and engage in an age-appropriate devotional.
d) Remember the age of the children and keep the call to a reasonable time. Younger children have shorter attention spans.
e) With younger children, try to be interactive when possible. Plan ahead, including communicating with parents, any faith-building activity so everyone is prepared, and children can anticipate what will happen. For example, “Tonight, Nana is going to pray with you at bedtime”.
f) Be flexible and allow children to share their environment with you. Children can be on their parents’ lap telling you about a toy, then jumping off dad’s lap to suddenly go pee, then returning to participate in the video chat by singing a spontaneous song!
g) Have fun with your grandbabies! Faith formation is a process and occurs over our lifetime.
Rempel (2012) suggests that storytelling is one tool which grandparents can use to not only build “strong relationships with their biological and spiritual children,” but that it will help grandparents influence the spiritual growth of grandchildren (Rempel, 2012, 125).
Being intentional about our granddaughter’s spiritual formation, we considered their rhythm of life. Our granddaughters love to build forts with blankets and cushions to create their own little sacred space to play and read books. We use the fort play time to read bible stories and share stories about our faith to engage in spiritual grandparenting. Sometimes we have had to be spontaneous and improvise on the spot!
3) Serving God Together
Our family enjoys serving God together. When our family lived in the same community, it was easier to serve the Lord together. While we now live in different provinces from our grandchildren, we have to be intentional about finding ways we can serve together as a family such as giving Blessing Bags to the homeless on Christmas morning or simply purchasing a t-shirt to support the youth ministry at our church. We believe no task is too small when serving God together, as long as it brings glory to God!
These are some great ways grandparents can help influence the faith of their grandchildren. What might be some ways the church may be able to support grandparents in this effort?
Some ways churches can help might be by:
1. Providing technical support and education on how grandparents can access and use social media effectively and safely.
2. Providing tips and opportunities to help grandparents comfortably share their faith with their grandchildren.
3. Providing grandparents with story boxes, that have props, that will help them engage in playful storytelling. Some storytelling props for story boxes can be farm animals, biblical characters/people, finger or hand puppets, the biblical story on easily accessible 3×5 index cards and other visual aids such as maps, small stones or sand and musical instruments.
4. By encouraging grandparents to serve in the community with their grandchildren. I believe serving as a family can still occur while living in different provinces!
Allen, Holly and Heidi Schultz Oschwald. “The Spiritual Influence of Grandparents.” Christian Educational Journal, 5:2, 2008, 346-362.
Deprez, Matthew. “The role of grandparents in shaping faith formation of grandchildren: A case study.” Christian Education Journal, 14:1, 2017, 109-127.
Rempel, Elsie H.R. Please Pass the Faith: The Art of Spiritual Grandparenting. Herald Press, 2012. Kindle.