Today’s post finishes up our exploration of Sharon Daloz Parks’ model of the developmental needs of various age groups from her book Big Questions, Worthy Dreams. Please read the posts from October 25 and November 5 for an introduction. Today we continue with probably the most impactful and interesting of the columns, “Community.” Here is the chart again:
Thus far we’ve explored how age groups receive information and how they respond to it. The Community column in Parks’ model is the “what we do about it” column. Community indicates the type of environment a child, adolescent or adult needs to function in a healthy way and to be able to grow into subsequent stages.
According to Parks’, children, who understand the world in very absolute and wondrous terms need a community of stability, a community which can present a consistent message of support, love and acceptance. If it takes a village, that village would do well to be on roughly the same page.
In the relativistic world that youth inhabit relationships are far more disconnected. If ideas and preconceptions are not to be taken for granted, then the hierarchy of relationships too breaks down. Youth may gravitate to any number of relationships disparate as they may be and invest heavily in a few connections that somehow seem to reflect their unease about their world. This space of safe, often peer, community is vital even as the hankering for mentorship and for other cultural relationships and sources of information begins to arise and must also be attended to.
Young Adults: Mentoring Community
Here is the central post of Parks’ argument, that the community we offer for youth becoming young adults becoming older adults is pivotal in the formation of an “adult faith.” This, she claims, happens in a community of mutual mentorship, where young adults can test their probing commitments and find footholds for themselves. These communities are ones of belonging, of dialogue, of “big enough” questions, of encounters with otherness, of integration, contemplation and critical thinking, of new images and lenses, of practice, and finally, places where young adults can develop their own sense of vocation, their own “worthy dreams.” A community ready to receive older youth and young adults is one that can enter into a mentoring relationship with a young adult seeking their own spiritual identity.
Tested Adult: Self-selected Group
In order for the newly discovered values and lenses to solidify adults must then enter and occupy a safe space of reinforcement, surrounded by others who can help them work out the details. Of course, this isn’t the only community they need, but a place of stability, however brief, is necessary for an adult’s faith formation.
Mature Adult: Open to the Other
Having found their footing, mature adults have the capacity and need to bring in the other. They are prepared to encounter the other on a more intimate level that perhaps pokes holes in the imagined stability of like-community and returns the tested adult to once again probing their commitments. While this happens much less dramatically than it does with young adults, the process is similar. It is those who occupy this space that are most prepared for relationships of mutual mentorship with all ages.
We often think that our communities, however big or small have a single character. How then do we begin to understand and respond to the impact of “the way we do community” on a multigenerational community? How do we hold the many spaces we occupy and and create in tension with one another? How do our classrooms and our parish halls become spaces that create the learning environment that will best allow the ages we serve to grow in their lives of faith? How are these spaces mutually dependent upon one another? We encourage the use of this resource as an exploration of the place of the lost art of mentoring in our communities.