The Rev Ian Barnett could not have imagined the snowball effect of founding the National Grandparent Conference, but the resulting ministry is continuing to expand – even overseas.
The aim is simple: “to engage, equip and encourage grandparents and ministry leaders to be intentional in leaving a faith legacy for others to follow, especially our grandchildren”.
But why has it struck such a chord?
“Many grandparents feel powerless,” Mr Barnett says. “They feel like as soon as you hit 60, all you do is just have lunch together and don’t impact anyone. Or that they have nothing to say – which is not a biblical issue, because the Bible actually says the grey-haired ones are full of wisdom.
“There are things that they know. They have gone through seasons of heartache and pain and suffering. They understand what it’s like to either forgive or not to forget. So they are just saying more and more, ‘How do we get involved?’”
In October, Mr Barnett will speak at the Legacy Coalition’s Grandparenting Summit in Florida – part of a global movement that includes Greece, Spain, Taiwan and South Africa in addition to North America.
“It is really becoming a movement around the world, which I was completely unaware of when we started our own conference five years ago,” he says.
A former senior minister in Sydney and the Illawarra, Mr Barnett is also running (and encouraging others to run) grandparenting seminars at churches in Sydney and Wollongong. His discussions with grandparents have also informed the choice of speakers for the next National Grandparent Conference on September 17, which will be at Figtree Anglican Church and online.
“Grandparents want to keep thinking about how they share their faith with their grandchildren,”
“Mental health issues are growing and the challenge they’re facing is how do they persevere and stay strong to the end? That’s why we are having Keith and Sarah Condie [counsellors and Bible teachers] come and speak this year. Other speakers include Colin Bale, Kel Richards, Tim Costello, and Danny and Leila Abdallah, whose three children were killed by a drunk and drugged driver in Western Sydney.”
While the Abdallahs are not grandparents, Mr Barnett says, “I’ve connected with Danny and Leila, who’ve experienced pain that many, many haven’t experienced, losing three kids in an instant. They want to talk about forgiveness and especially how adults and grandparents pass the value of forgiveness on to future generations.”
This is important to include as the issue of forgiveness has come up over and over again at previous conferences when grandparents have asked questions.
“They talk about their suffering. They talk about, ‘How do I forgive my son-in-law’? Or ‘How do I forgive my daughter?’ I think the Abdallahs will have a very, very particular way of expressing that.”
Learn more about the National Grandparent Movement