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Jeff Meyers on Signing Bibles to Promote Intergenerational Faith Formation

Pastor Jeff Meyers explains why First Union members write in Bibles presented to youth graduating from fifth grade and high school.

Jeff Meyers is pastor of First Union Church in Cedarville, Michigan. This congregation in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula loves creating “opportunities for people of different generations to share their faith with one another,” Meyers says. In this edited conversation, based on emails during the summer of 2013, he explains why First Union members write in Bibles presented to youth graduating from fifth grade and high school.

Why is intergenerational worship important to your congregation?

Our church family is located in a smaller community. We value the learning that takes place when people of different ages get together at the same time and share what God is doing in their lives. Sunday morning is the central gathering of our community of faith. We often quote the saying, "Families are the little churches in our church."  Children grow and change. Parents become grandparents. There are so many milestones in a family's life. Life doesn't slow down. Change is a constant in people's faith.

So, our Sunday morning worship needs to build into its structure the idea of being a living community of people who are trusting God on their journey. Being intergenerational is the way we structure our worship services to handle the vitality of a living congregation. It also provides many loving relationships for people of all ages to thrive in their Christian walk.

Who gave you the idea of asking church members to write in Bibles that would be presented to youth?

First Union Church has a tradition of giving Bibles to students moving from fifth grade to sixth grade—the elementary to middle school transition in our church. We also give a Bible to high school graduates. The idea to have church members write in the Bibles was shared at a Calvin Symposium on Worship about five years ago. Bob and Laura Keeley mentioned the idea in a seminar they led called "Celebrating Milestones of Faith.” Our youth and family coordinator and I looked at each other and said, "We can do that. Let's do it."  

What does it take to carry out this idea?

We heard the idea in January and implemented it in May. Our youth and family coordinator and I shared it with the board. They loved it. Having people write in presentation Bibles was easy to implement because it fit what our church was already doing. We just improved our existing practice. We purchased leather-bound study Bibles and placed them in the fellowship hall three weeks prior to presenting them. Pens, highlighters and simple guidelines were placed on the table. The Bibles were left in the fellowship hall all week long so people could sign them during the week. Encouragement was given from the pulpit during announcement times for people to highlight a favorite verse and sign their names.

Do your members naturally write in, mark up or otherwise highlight their Bibles? Do people usually bring their own Bibles to worship or Sunday school?

People do bring their Bibles to Sunday school and worship. They are encouraged to mark up their Bibles. However, seven years ago we began to project Bible passages during the worship services using PowerPoint. This was to help people follow along during the sermon. The downside is that people don’t carry their Bibles to worship as frequently.

What works best to encourage members to underline verses, sign their names and include comments in the Bibles?

We provide the opportunity through our church structure. It is up to individuals to follow through. Some do and some don't. Making announcements from the pulpit every week is helpful. Placing the Bibles on a table in the fellowship hall is helpful. Everyone goes to the fellowship hall for coffee hour after each worship service. Throughout the week there are many activities in our fellowship hall.

Do people usually underline the same verse in each Bible or choose different verses for different kids?

Some people will underline their favorite verse, so it is the same for each Bible. Others will think of a verse that is specific to that child. Or they may do both--underlining more than one verse.

What comments have you heard from youth who received these signed Bibles?

The children love it. They can't wait to read the verses and comments that people wrote in their Bible. The real payoff happens months later, when a person reading his or her Bible sees a passage underlined by someone from the church. They are reminded of a loving relationship in their church family. They are encouraged by the faith of one church member to another. They experience how church is for people of all ages.

I know this from personal family experience. When my daughter graduated from high school, we placed her Bible at her graduation open house reception. This gave people from her family and others outside of her church a chance to sign her Bible and underline a favorite verse. My daughter has shared with me several times that she was reading her Bible and came across a verse that so-and-so had underlined. It meant a lot to her. The individuals who signed her Bible were from many generations.

What do adults like about writing in presentation Bibles?

Signing the Bibles each year provides a functioning structure for us to communicate intergenerationally. People know who is graduating and can expect to be a part of this important milestone. It also helps the church staff to have a regular structure for us to encourage and shepherd the people of God. The Bibles are presented during the worship service, not just as part of the announcements.

Learn from posters that First Union Church created after completing projects on intergenerational scriptural worship and celebrating milestones of Christian faith. Read Celebrating the Milestones of Faith: A Guide for Churches by Laura Keeley and Robert Keeley.