intergenerational living

One thing I've noticed about being a tech-savy 30-something member of a religious community where there is more gray hair than not (other than the fact that my own gray hairs are multiplying at an alarming rate), is that I'm often called upon to share my technical expertise, which I happily do. When I was in England last fall I found that a social call to one of our houses often ended with me on my knees .... looking at the back of their pc trying to figure out which wires were disconnected or why the internet access wasn't working. Since I've been here in my new temporary digs, I was on my knees also - but this time to set up the wireless network for my own benefit! I have also given some computer advice and training to the sisters here and in the convent next door. Like I said, I'm happy to help - especially if it facilitates communication in our congregation. And really, we're all called to share our own particular gifts with the community - part mine happens to be techie assistance.

Why am I sharing this with you? It is in part inspired by a wonderful post by bloggy friend Sarah who is a pre-novice with a community all the way across the globe in Australia.
I've been noticing this week the ways that I suspect or know the community has changed to accommodate me and in response to my presence. As I'm sure I've said before I'm the youngest in my community by more than 30 years and so there's a bit of culture shock moving in here. From the day I arrived I've been touched by how much the community has tried to meet my needs and be open to the fact I'm, well, different. ... Sometimes I'm able to see that I've contributed here as well as learned and grown.
She gives some great every day concrete examples of the give and take of intergenerational living. When I was thinking of ways that I've contributed, my computer help is an obvious way that comes to mind. But also I think my very presence as a younger member of the community brings a breath of fresh air and a new perspective that is needed. Likewise, I benefit from the wisdom and lived experiences of the older members in community. Plus as a general rule, the women I have lived with have been fun!

As I've written before, the generation gap is a reality in religious life and is something that needs to factor into one's discernment as a younger woman entering religious life. Ignoring the reality is not healthy, but in my experience neither is obsessing about it.

To be honest, the strangest and most surprising thing about intergenerational community living in religious life is not how hard it is, but how natural it can be. I think the key is if the call to the charism and spirit of the community is present in all the members. If it is, then the diversity and differences present in the group - age being one of those differences - make life more interesting but are not obstacles.

Living in the novitiate house was a different experience, because while there were some older members of the community there were also the other two novices in formation living there. But during my ministry experiences - in London in the fall and now in Jersey City - I am the only younger member. In fact, in my current house I'm the youngest member by 40 years. Part of me thinks that it would be impossible to relate, that there would be too many cultural references missing, too many generational challenges. And yet, my lived experience has shown this not to be the case. Like I say, the most surprising thing is how natural this way of living can be. I think it's both part of the mystery of religious life and the witness it can be in the world.

I'd be interested in any comments from my "cousins" in religious life - those bloggy friends who are also discerning or have lived in intergenerational communities. What does your experience tell you???


Anonymous said...

Hi Susan!

I do not exactly belong into the group you´re calling, but would like to add a link for all of those who have liked this post.

DB#438 - How the Cardinal Got His iPod


In this edition of the Daily Breakfast podcast, Fr. Roderick Vonhogen narrates how he presented his retiring bishop with an Ipod and how he fared with it. Beautiful story, highly recommended!


Sister Juliet, RSCJ said...

Hi! What a great post--this is an issue that I have been thinking about quite a lot lately. I am planning on entering a community in the fall of 2009--still a bit out, but the application will take most of the next school year to complete.

Anyway, my congregation is the Society of the Sacred Heart (rscj), and they have seen no new members in the last few years. I am pretty young (I'll be 30 when I enter) compared to most of the sisters.

One of my (minor) concerns is that I will be in formation alone--no one is entering this coming fall, and it is unlikely that anyone is entering with me either. I am concerned about this, but not that much. I am reassured by the encounters I have had with the sisters. Although most of the sisters are decades older than I am, they are very real, down-to-earth, hard-working people who genuinely care for the people with whom they live/play/work/pray. I worry about not having a peer to share the journey with, but I know that this group of women will accept me and respect the uniqueness that I will bring, as I will do for them. [I love what you said about them making space and changes in response to your presence in the community.]

In formation, I hope for the opportunity to meet members of other congregations, both male and female, and I know that will have to be my peer group. I have been assured that this actually does happen during formation!

I also am thankful for the bloggy community. While I am still pretty new to it, I am grateful to know the many others who are exploring the same ideals and concerns that I am working with. On that note--thank you for your blog! I enjoy reading your story.

Much peace,

Lisa said...

I'm often touched by how you so sincerely find such depth in the seemingly ordinary things of every day life. You really highlight how the most profound realizations can be held in daily life.

Your observations about intergenerational differences are well-stated. In our society especially, generational differences are depicted as inherent and naturally marking and divise. But in reality, there is far more that enables us to come together than what differentiates us. Not to downplay the differences of experiences that shape each generation or pose a challenge to each generation, but there are human conditions and experiences that can connect us so that we can appreciate the differences between and among us.

That is a wonderful gift!

Anonymous said...

Being in the middle of both generations, I can clearly see the values of each. I also have close friends on both ends of the generational gap and love them dearly not in spite of their ages but because of them - and because of who they are. I think a lot is made of "age" these days instead of just seeing the individual for who he or she is. I have always felt that it should not be about "numbers." There are many people at the "greyer" end of the spectrum who are very young minded. (You know there are many of them in the csjp ommunity...and other communities as well.) Likewise, there are younger people who are so set in their ways. It's important for everyone to be openminded and accepting and to look beyond the numbers. There is much to be learned from each other by both young and old. "In youth we learn; in age we understand." And to "SD" - go forward in peace and confidence. You will be fine.

KristaBeth said...

While I do not like in community the same way you do, in the first church I served as pastor I was the youngest of the active participants by at least 20 years. It was challenging at first, but we became family. And I learned that we are all children of God, which is the important thing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I enjoy reading your blog.

Sarah said...

Great post Susan.
I'm of the opinion that, like most divisions, seeing what unites us is more helpful than focusing on what divides us. It's tricky being at the end of the spectrum where I'm the minority but there is also great privilege.
The balance between acknowledging the "difference" and glossing over it is complicated but I think it's one of those things which with time and patience we all learn from.
When I first moved into my community where I'm 31 and the others are between 62 and 85 lots of people thought it would be like living with 2 mums and 2 grandmothers... they couldn't be more wrong! We are Sisters, equal but different, I have a lot to learn so I'm definitely the younger Sister but I'm so glad to have my older Sister's around to learn from and with.
Mary turned 85 yesterday and, as her younger (and more physically able) sister it was an honour to host her birthday party guests.
The blessings are MUCH more important than the challenges.

Susan Rose Francois, CSJP said...

Great comments everyone!!!

Sarah, I was particularly interested in your comment about how everyone thought it would be like living with moms/grannies - but that really it's just living with Sisters who happen to be older. I totally know what you mean.

When I moved into my temporary digs, they joked that it would be like living with 2 grannies for me - although since my parents had me late they're much closer to my parents age. But I digress ... it's only been two weeks but we are more like equals and as you say more like the sisters we are then the parents/children we're not.

Anonymous said...

Susan, I've enjoyed reading your blog occasionally but haven't commented before.
While the generation in our community (a monastic community and therefore with everyone is in one house) isn't as big as it may be elsewhere, one thing that I notice is that a tendency to refer to "older sisters" and "younger sisters" tends to lead to over-simplifications that can be frustrating. As someone in my early forties I am classified as a "younger sister" and that is not meant in any sense negatively. But it can be a bit disorientating when one realises that one is starting to enter middle age and is actually old enough to be a grandmother (help!). Perhaps part of this is also that people are entering later today - our youngest sisters are in their late twenties - and one would in any case not encourage people to enter much younger. But the shifting age profile of the community and the abscence of the really young can mean that one loses some perspective on these things.