By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
SOLON — Parish faith formation personnel from throughout the diocese gathered to discuss ways to help parents and guardians minister to their children.
“Our church says so many wonderful things about family,” said speaker Joan Weber of the Center for Ministry Development (CMD). “We have to tell families to be the domestic church and give them the tools to do that,” Weber said, adding that parents are the most influential factor in the faith of their children.
The June Institute — Evangelizing Families, Empowering the Domestic Church — took place June 13 at St. Mary Parish in Solon. About 40 people attended the event, organized by the diocesan Office of Faith Formation.
Weber is CMD’s project coordinator for lifelong faith formation. She said she has been researching the topic of the domestic church for the past several years, attempting to figure out the best way to reach out to families. She shared the results of a recent survey in which she asked parents what they most want from the church. The highest response was the desire to feel welcome. Second was the desire to be asked how the church can help them live out their faith in the world.
She said families in the church are more diverse than ever. Parishioners and church leaders should take inspiration from Pope Francis and show compassion and mercy towards such families in their faith journey as opposed to making them feel unwelcome. This can be as simple as not chastising a family who chooses to bring a fussy baby or rambunctious toddler to church.
She emphasized the need for parish leaders to communicate with the families in the parish and find out what they need and how best to communicate with them. She said it is essential to learn how to utilize social media as a form of communication and evangelization.
Weber offered ideas for parents to implement faith at home. She said taking time to discuss homilies and relating current events and life challenges to the Bible are important steps. She said parents should freely pray and express faith in the home. Additionally, parents can place visual depictions of faith throughout the house. One idea that the group found most intriguing was that of making a sacred space in the home for private prayer. One participant suggested the idea of parents posting their sacred spaces to Pinterest.
Weber encouraged parishes to increase their outreach to parents, as most programs are currently geared toward children. She suggested parishes come up with programs that engage parents while their children are in religious education sessions. If the child is preparing for a sacrament, perhaps the parents’ sessions can focus around their own understanding of the sacraments. Planning of parish events such as a faith festival can help create a sense of community that young families today crave.
She said parishes should be careful to make sure they are providing parents enough time to be at home with their kids and not overwhelming them with activities. She suggested getting families involved in helping with Mass, but was adamant that parishes should arrange for all members of a family to help at the same Mass.
John Valenti, diocesan coordinator of Lifelong Faith and Lay Ministry Formation, said Weber “did a very good job outlining the need to listen to today’s parents, and she gave many good examples of how to support families of faith in the parish and at home. … Equally important was the desire to create a welcoming relationship within families and finding the joy, focus, witness and service related to encountering Christ.” He appreciated Weber touching on the need to expand the definition and vision of family to include single parents, blended and extended families.
He said the topic was relevant, especially with the upcoming diocesan initiative, “Strong Catholic Familes, Strong Catholic Youth,” and the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families in September.
Jen Brooke, director of religious education at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport, also appreciated the relevance of the topic. “It was a nice refresher on why we should put the domestic church at the forefront of working with kids and families.”
Shirley Van Dee, parish life coordinator of Ss. Joseph & Cabrini Parish in Richland, said she was impressed with Weber’s energy and insight. “She gave us down-to-earth ideas — some things I’m excited to bring back to the parish and try.”
“It was a great opportunity to get new ideas for ways to reach families in the parish,” said Theresa Bonnema, a member of St. Mary Parish-Solon’s family life commission.
Frances Buelow, a faith formation commission member at Jesus Christ, Prince of Peace-Clinton, is excited to take ideas back to her parish, too. She recognizes the importance of making sure that today’s children become tomorrow’s active parishioners. “If you don’t have family life, you won’t have a parish life in the future.”
Part two of Evangelizing Families will take place Aug. 28.