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Intergenerational Church Installs 19-Year-Old Elder


A commitment to intergenerational ministry made four years ago has led to the installation of a 19-year-old Joel Altena as an elder of worship at Shawnee Park Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Joel Altena (second from left), 19, is installed as elder of worship at Shawnee Park CRC along with other elders and deacons.

The congregation, having noted that no college-aged students were regularly attending at the time, agreed in 2009 to focus intentionally on “intergenerational ministry to teens and young adults by all and by teens and young adults to all.”

Altena grew up as a member of the church and was groomed for leading music in worship from an early age. He made a commitment to stay at Shawnee Park when he began his studies at Calvin College and invited his peers to attend events and to assist him in leading worship.

His presence as a worship leader paved the way to success in the congregation’s intergenerational goals. A young woman who’d been a part of Shawnee’s youth group had stopped attending because she didn’t feel there was a place for her there. When she came back recently for pre-marital counseling, she recognized Altena. She and her fiancé have been regular attenders, along with 30 to 40 college students who worship weekly and volunteer with respite and food truck programs at the church.

“We realized,” says Nicholas Hopkins, pastor of Shawnee Park CRC, “that if we want young people involved in the church, we need young voices at the table, rather than older people telling college students what to do.”

The congregation posed logistical questions when Altena’s name was vetted as an elder, but he faced no opposition from other members. Altena was one of three candidates for elder of worship, an administrative role that serves on the full council and works closely with the pastor to plan worship but does not have pastoral care responsibilities.

Altena was installed in April of this year, alongside his father, Ken Altena who will serve as a pastoral care elder.

At one of his first council meetings, Altena was able to speak from a youth perspective to the value of having an online presence through social media. Based on his contribution, the council approved a significant budget line item for equipment and software toward that end.

“I feel that by serving as an elder, I have empowered others to own and invest their membership at Shawnee,” says Altena.

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