After the conversation last week on how the Church might be able to help mothers of many young children, it became clear to me that Parish life really is a two way street. Just as there are many variations in mothers and their particular needs, there are also enormous variations in Parish life and its offerings.
In all the posts and comboxes that followed the discussion, one thing seemed clear: If I want to have more of the Church in my life, I have to get involved in the life of the Church.
The Church is a family, and even if we’re able to switch parishes in order to find one that better fits our spiritual needs, at some point we have to be satisfied with less than perfection, with a Parish’s particular personality, its limitations and strengths, and accept it the way we accept our own mothers, beloved and flawed as they are.
Part of establishing a relationship with our Parish, then, is opening lines of communication, fostering and maintaining them, the way we would with our family–so that when we get into binds in our personal life, we have more than “help-me!” radar to send out to our community.
With that thought in mind I was recalling past experiences in my own Parish life to figure out what worked, what didn’t, what are reasonable expectations, and where really good connections were made.
Here are a few very simple things parishioners can do to to communicate our needs to the Parish:
1. Register in the Parish office.
This is a no-brainer, right? Except that for the first few years of our marriage, my husband and I hopped around between three or four Parishes to whatever Mass we felt like attending. We were free, but freedom came with a price–no community.
When I get Parish mailings, I at least know what’s going on, and whether or not I want to participate. The Parish also then knows who’s in my family, and their birth dates (which tells them “I have kids, and they’re young!”).
2. Pick a Parish and stay there.
This shouldn’t be complicated, and yet, sometimes it is. Even after my husband and I settled into a particular Parish and registered, our kids went to school at a different Parish.
I tried straddling two parishes for awhile, but when it came time for one of my kids to receive his First Communion we had to make a choice. Even though it was difficult for my son to make his First Communion on a different day than his classmates, school would be school, and Parish life would be at our own Parish.
I’d thought about haggling with the DRE at our own Parish to see if he could receive the Sacraments at the school, but not arguing sent a message to her, that we were committed to our Parish, and that all of our kids would follow suit. We could count on our Parish for Sacramental prep, and the church could count on our numbers to fill their classes each year.
Jen Fulwiler, at The Register, also touched on the importance of putting down roots in one Parish so that real relationships form within it–relationships that can nurture individuals and their individual needs.
3. Make an appointment with the DRE, Priest, or Parish administrator to find out what classes and ministries the Parish offers. This would also be the time to communicate particular ministries you’re looking for.
At this meeting, I asked if there were any other stay-at-home moms in the Parish. When we first moved to our new Parish, there was only one other stay-at-home mother, and our DRE put us in contact with each other. I don’t know how I would have found her otherwise. When another family with a stay-at-home mom moved in, our DRE let us know. The three of us and our kids now share babysitting and social times, outside of church.
4. If you’re able, volunteer, or volunteer your family members.
Around this time of year, our Archdiocese sends out the Annual Catholic Appeal. In this letter, families are asked to make a financial pledge to the Parish and to the Archdiocese, and there is also a list of ministries on which parishioners can mark an interest. This is where I check off if my kids want to be altar servers, if we’d like to be catechists, or participate in music ministry, whatever.
The DRE gets an idea from these lists of what kinds of programs parishioners need, and who she has to man them.
5. Let the Parish know what it would take for you to be able to volunteer your time.
The religious ed program at our church has undergone dramatic change in the past few years. When we arrived, religious ed was on Sunday mornings between the two Masses. It was stressful to be a Catechist, because it meant that while I was teaching a class to a couple of my kids at Church, my husband was at home with a couple more kids, getting them ready for Mass. Religious ed conflicted with our desire to attend Mass together as a family.
Most of the other Catechists were also mothers, and expressed similar challenges with the Sunday morning routine, so that our DRE saw significant need for a change.
She moved religious ed to Wednesday nights, arranged for dinner to be served beforehand, set up childcare, and offered catechesis for the whole family–ages 0-adult. Afterwards there’s prayer in the Sanctuary which varies between Mass, Rosary, Adoration, Benediction, and other liturgical prayers.
The program takes more volunteers to put on, but more volunteers are available, since childcare is offered, and it doesn’t conflict with family time on Sunday. The program has done wonders for Parish community life, and has attracted participants from other parishes.
One other important factor in the success of our Wednesday night catechesis was an ecumenical effort on the part of our Parish and Protestant Churches in our town to set aside Wednesday nights for Church activities.
Representatives from each church drafted letters to the school board, the local paper, etc. asking for a reprieve from sporting events and planned activities in the community on Wednesdays, so that families could attend church activities on that night. It’s a small town, so the community was fairly responsive to our efforts–though by no means, across the board.
Here are some things I’ve done that DID NOT improve communication between me and my Parish:
1. Presuming to know exactly what my Parish needed.
Upon moving to a new Parish, I approached the DRE with a program that I thought the Parish could use. Even though I thought it was a great program, she told me no, because A.) she’d been a member of our Parish for many years, and knew what it would and would not support, and B.) She didn’t know me from Adam.
After several years working with her, and with the programs she already had in place, she feels comfortable asking me for input on new ministries. Humility would have been a good virtue for me to bring on my first meeting with her.
2. Trash talking the Parish’s apathy, its employees, and its offerings.
Even done in private, it sets up a “me against them” mentality that is both self-aggrandizing, and degrading to the people who have kept my Parish running for hundreds of years before my arrival.
3. Trash talking other moms/ families in the Parish.
Everyone’s working hard. Everyone has challenges. Some moms work outside the home, some don’t–but at some point, I had to put aside the idea that everyone else has life so much easier than I do.
Relationships are complicated on a personal level, but even more so when you add to that the many nuances of building a relationship with a Parish consisting of hundreds, or sometimes thousands of members. It takes delicacy, compromise, patience, and time to get to know each other. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen at all if we don’t show up.
My post on What Does Help for Moms Look Like?
Melanie Bettinelli on Motherhood and Isolation and the Meaning of Christian Brotherhood
Dorian Speed on What my Parish does Well
Jen Fulwiler on The Problem with Help from Strangers
More links on this subject? Please share in the comments.