By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
IOWA CITY — Parish faith formation leaders divided into groups, each one focusing on the unique challenges faced by parents at different stages of their children’s development. Each group wrote their thoughts on pieces of paper and laid them on the floor for all to see. Participants discovered that each group had similar concerns.
“There are differences, but more so, there are common concerns that loving parents have for their children, no matter what their age,” commented Father Brian Shepley, pastor of parishes in Brooklyn and Victor.
About 70 parish leaders attended the Aug. 28 workshop at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, entitled “Engaging Parents, Forming Family Faith.” Sponsored by the diocesan Office of Faith Formation, the workshop was the second of two summer gatherings focused on helping parish faith formation teams provide support to the domestic church.
Susan Searle, project coordinator for Center for Ministry Development’s Just 5 Days and YouthLeader programs, shared her expertise at the workshop. A main concern for parents — and of the church in general — is how to create the next generation of active Catholics. It is not enough to send children to religious education classes anymore, Searle said. Parents must understand the faith and model it within their own home, thus nurturing the faith of their children.
Searle said it is necessary to support parents in their challenging journey and to be merciful in the approach. “It’s easy to have a laundry list of things that parents aren’t doing right. How do we help them to embrace their role as the primary agents of their children’s faith?” Searle asked. “We have to prioritize parents as well as kids.”
She suggested offering adult faith formation activities during times when their children are involved in religious education, especially since parents are often busy and might not have much time for themselves. While some parents may prefer traditional Bible studies, others may prefer a more social experience.
Armed with detailed guides for each participant, Searle explained that the current demographic of parents is diverse. Baby Boomers, Generation Xers and Millennials are among those raising children in 2015. Some generations are more about community, some are more traditional, and others are more skeptical and individualistic. Because of this diversity, it is necessary for parishes to offer a variety of avenues for enriching the faith of parents and helping them pass on the faith to their children. A one-size-fits-all approach will not be as effective.
Parishes can also help with adult faith formation through social media, Searle said. At the workshop, she explained how tweeting can be used to reach out to a large group. Workshop participants suggested websites that can help with faith formation too, especially if they are shared on social media platforms. These include Busted Halo, Ted Talks, blogs like “Catholic Icing” and “Catholic Mom,” and more.
Searle recognizes that the prospect of expanding parish ministry to focus more on parents can be daunting. “You don’t have to do this alone. Think about the resources you already have. Who are people who would want to be involved and what roles can they provide?”
Father Robert Lathrop, pastor of All Saints Parish in Keokuk, attended the August gathering with Trevor Pullinger, the parish’s director of faith formation and youth ministry. Both men began brainstorming soon after the meeting ended. Fr. Lathrop said, “With a group like this, through networking, you can’t help but get new and creative ideas and ways to interact with parents and help them pass the faith on to their children. …The struggle is reaching parents who are busy and finding creative ways to do that.”
Luke Gregory, the new director of lifelong faith formation for Sacred Heart Parish in Newton, was also thankful for the networking opportunity provided by the workshop. “It was good to be with other folks who are in the same boat.”