We've been starting to receive some email here at Building Cathedrals and aim to address all of your queries. Please don't hesitate to write in with an issue and we'll do our best to post on it as soon as possible. Here's our first from reader, Katherine:
I do not feel that my parish is very encouraging or supportive of mothers who choose to stay at home with their children. My pastor is not fond of small children and regularly encourages parents to leave their little children at the parish-provided baby-sitting service (not children's liturgy, just baby-sitting) such that the children never even enter the church. Almost any meeting or event is on weekday evenings which is very difficult for me to attend as I nurse a 4-month-old who is always more needy at the end of the day and I have a 2-year-old whose bedtime routine it would mess up quite a bit, not to mention it is the primary time of day I get to spend with my husband. I think the times are generally chosen for adults who work during the day, but I feel like there is no way for me to be involved with my parish outside of Mass.
So, my questions:
1. Does anyone else feel this way or is it just me? Maybe it is just my parish and not a common thing.
2. If someone does not feel this way, is there something your parish does so that you don't feel this way?
I'm wondering if my parish is more in the minority or the majority and I'm also wondering what can be done such that ministry to women like me doesn't fall through the cracks."
My heart goes out to you as I read your words and feel your frustration. I have experienced varying degrees of what you are describing in parishes around the country (literally in NJ, CO, and IN!), the most poignant in Colorado where we were parishioners for one year before people started asking us, "Are you new to the parish?" It is so easy for young families to fall through the cracks even in thriving parishes, which makes this an issue worthy of appropriate attention by the Church (and us, its people!)
First of all, let me extend a warm hug of support and pat on the back for seeking out Christ in your day-to-day and desiring to commune with your parish outside of Mass on Sunday. When done right, a parish community can nurture a variety of ministries to the sick, poor, young, and old, bringing glory and honor during the week to the Eucharistic celebration on Sundays. I can remember GG and I attempting during our first year in Colorado to join a Bible study that met on Tuesday evenings (we didn't have kids yet). We found ourselves among four elderly couples, who were the sweetest people on earth and so nurturing to us. We had prayed for fellowship in our new parish and received a bountiful answer, just not in the form we expected!
Secondly, it sounds like you might have to be a pioneer within the parish in order to bring about ministries catering to mothers and young families. Perhaps there is another young mother you know who can help you spearhead a playgroup or a mother's Rosary group that meets while the kids play? I would challenge you to find like-hearted women and meet with your priest to explore options for you in the parish. Other parish ministries I've seen for mothers at our previous parishes include a Mom's Catholic group (brunch and ministry while childcare was provided--started in CO by a few moms with similar desires to yours; it was an awesome group--I just had to have a baby and find it!), Parents' groups that meet in the a.m. (similar in structure) , parish picnics at family-friendly times, and the Elizabeth ministries (providing support for mothers during childbearing years--meals, meetings, etc.) We've recently found a wonderful parish here in Indiana that aims to nurture the entire family, while exalting Christ in His Sacred Mass. It is beautiful to witness and is very possible with the commitment of parishioners to aid the priest(s) in such a mission! "Parish ambassadors" sit down with new families/parishioners and inform them of all the ministries available to them. I think this is a wonderful way of bringing His sheep into the fold of a church... We've also seen churches offer a ministry fair (usually in September) with tables representing the various outreaches of the church.
Finally, but most importantly, PRAY! Pray for the softening of your priest's heart, for the women who you'll reach, for the families you'll help nurture... It sounds like you have a full plate yourself, so try not to over commit (hard to do!) If you can find one niche, one ministry to commission, you'll bless your parish beyond measure. In the process, you'll most likely draw other young women, much like you, who desire to commune and support one another. I know I've heard Red talk about approaching any young family "new" to the parish and inviting the woman to her women's prayer group. I laugh thinking of Red hunting down parishioners (lol), but know these women are absolutely blessed by her efforts. It was because of one outgoing mother, Mary, that I ended up attending the MOM's group at our CO parish. She came up to me after Mass and welcomed me. I can't tell you how amazing that made me feel! (Sadly, though, it was after attending the church for a year and a half! Oh well! ;)
Are Catholic Churches perfect? Absolutely not.
Can we help to make them better? Of course!
Blessings to you, Katherine, as you pioneer for your Church! God speed.