Friday, March 28, 2008

A Mother's Question

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:

"Dear Builders,
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."

Dear Katherine,
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.


JesusThroughMary said...

If there are several events or groups that meet at night, you may want to pick the one in which you're most interested or to which you have the most to contribute, and make the sacrifice to commit to attending that one. It's not always easy, but we are called to give our time, talent and treasure to Christ and His Church. It will be of benefit to your children as well; as they see you (and - just as, if not more, importantly - your husband) placing the Church as a high priority in your lives, they will grow up comfortable in the Church, and not just on Sundays. The Church should be part of the culture and the daily life of our families - I'm sure you agree with that. Get involved however you can, and don't wait for people to invite you in. It's your parish as much as it's anyone else's. God's already given the invitation by laying it on your heart to get involved.

AWOL Mommy said...

Your thorough and thoughtful response is right on! I find it really interesting, knowing your and Red's Protestant backgrounds that you two have really taken this bull by the horns. I think we have a lot to learn from our Protestant brothers and sisters in Christ as far as how crucial the involvement of the laity is in enhancing the day-to-day spiritual life of our Catholic parishes. It is tempting to depend on our priests and nuns (fewer and far between, but clergy) because they are free of the demands of family life, whereas Protestants have always known that the success of their parishes depend on their enthusiasm and commitment. Let's learn from them and maintain the added truths of Apostolic succession, the communion of saints and the centrality of the Eucharist. Then we can have it all!

JesusThroughMary said...

(Point of order: only men in Holy Orders are clergy according to Canon Law. Religious brothers and sisters are laity.)

Right Said Red said...

B-mama, a very well thought out response! I have only one thing to add.

Our family chooses to attend a Parish that is not our geographical parish. It is only a few miles down the road, but the Priests there are excellent and truly supportive of young families. While the activities for families and young mothers were very limited when we arrived (and are to some extent still limited), we had the support of a good Priest. When we had or have ideas we know the Priests will be happy to help.

I think you should schedule a meeting with your parish priest and introduce yourself. Tell him that you would like to have some activities for young families and see how receptive he is to your ideas. Without the support of a spiritual leader it will be very difficult to get anything accomplished in your Parish.

If the Priest seems supportive, then stay at that Parish and pray and work hard for things to change. Follow B-Mama's advice, it is excellent. If the Priest doesn't seem supportive, then maybe a Parish down the road would be? I'd take my family elsewhere and then follow B-mama's advice at another church.


Dude said...

Red - I agree that, if the situation at your parish is very bad, it may be time to look elsewhere. But I would caution against parish-shopping. In the Protestant world, where people look for a church to fit their own tastes, people often bounce around for petty reasons. Catholics should be above that. Our parish is our second home. We don't ditch the family just because there's some unpleasant members. At the same time, if the parish is truly hostile to family life, regularly teaches heresy, or profanes the sacred liturgy, you have no choice but to leave, lest your kids become corrupted. Unfortunately, this is the case at many parishes.

Right Said Red said...


Well said. I agree that Parish shopping isn't ideal and people should avoid switching churches every couple of years because of a disagreement about some small thing. That said, the state of most regular Parishes in the US is pretty lousy. I think it imperative that at least a good Priest is present for my children to have a good upbringing in the faith. Raising my children in a loving faith community is higher on the priority list than starting up activities at a Parish with a priest that doesn't seem very committed to making a vibrant faith community--and hoping things will change. Raising my kids in the faith is my highest priority, and a Parish that has a good liturgy and seems to welcome children at Mass is essential.

So what I'm basically saying is we should all do what works best for a family, even if that means attending a Parish that is not our geographic Parish. Obviously this should be done without switching churches all the time!


Bethany said...

I feel very lucky. Mostly because our current parish is the best one I have ever attended. They have a warm welcoming spirit, many activities that are strongly encouraged and a strong sense of community.

As my family prepares to move yet again (third time in 3 years). I already feel a loss of family and connection. I often joke about bringing this parish community with me. One of the biggest blessings that our parish has is that every new family that enters the parish meets with our pastor one on one. He welcomes them, introduces them to the various stewardships of the parish and really conveys a strong sense of community.

There are also many other activities, unique ones such as family night religious education, prayer shawl ministry, K4J club etc... etc... Some of you may have heard of a couple of these but, many of the activities have been new to me and my family because so many parishes seem to ignore their parishoners outside the the traditional mass participatory acts and the Lenten Fish Fries. Or they cater only to 1 or 2 groups of people, primarily seniors or singles (or both).

Unfortunately it seems that so many parish communities lack a real sense of community. I have taken away so much from this parish experience that I hope to be able to take the initiative and make a difference wherever we end up next.

Katherine said...

Much thanks for posting my email and for all the wonderful support and suggestions!

Our parish is not heretical nor do I have any fear of it becoming so. I think it is just that because we are located just outside D.C. in a very work/business focused-area, our parish tends to follow suit. Plus, with our pastor not being very child-friendly, there is no parish-initiative for ministry to stay-at-home moms or moms of little children.

We do, however, have a very young parish with many families so it might be this is something our parish should seriously begin to address.

I, in all honesty, don't like the pastor (who has been there 2 years now but still doesn't know any of our names and calls every child in the parish "Noodle") but I also think you are right - I will need to speak to the pastor if such an initiative is to progress. There is simply no way for it to be a parish group without the pastor's support. I am also trying to make some connections with other stay-at-home moms, esp. those with small children, and see what they think and where they might stand on the subject.

What is prayer shawl ministry? K4J Club?

Bethany said...

Prayer Shawl ministry has taken route since knitting has become a popular hobby for people younger than 65. A group of people get together, I believe kind of like a quilt group and knit a shawl while praying. When the shawl is done, it is giving to person who needs the warmth or the prayers or both.

K4J stands for Kids for Jesus club. It's a club that meets about once a month for children ages 3 to about 12 and is run by the youth ministers of our parish as well as the high school students of the parish. For two hours they get together, eat pizza, pray, talk, discuss, color, draw, play games, what you would normally think a bunch of kids getting together would do. It is not required that the parents stay, in fact it's encouraged that the parents kids of take the couple hours off and reconnect themselves if possible. It gives the opportunity for the children to develop strong faith relationships with other children in the parish and at the same time kind of giving the parents a night out.

B-Mama said...

Bethany, those sound like awesome ministries! I'm going to have to remember them when we relocate this summer... I especially love the knitting in prayer idea (though I don't know if I could continuously knit and pray without questions creeping up! I'm still a fledgling knitter!) Also, how wonderful for one of the goals of the K4J ministry to be to help the parents reconnect through time together. *Incredible!* I'm totally inspired to either find these activities or help start ones like them in our next parish.

Mary Alice said...

In our parish there is a mom's group that meets once a month, someone has donated a basket of toys and while the toddlers play the moms read and discuss the gospel for the coming week (using a guide book). It is great since moms so often are not free to pay attention to the homily. Our group is led by a religious sister, but I think that, since we use a book, anyone could do it.

I have found that all parishes differ, keeping in mind that time and resources are limited and they can only do so much. We were once in a parish that did not do much for socializing but had tremendous social justice ministries, homeless shelters, food pantry, etc, mostly run by senior citizen volunteers.

In New York City, they have actually had the parishes start to work together and specialize, so that one parish might have CCD for kids, one might have Pre-Cana, another would have RCIA. This is a great way for smaller parishes to stretch themselves. If you were going to start a moms group, for example, with the permission of your pastor you might advertise in the bulletins of other nearby churches as well.

Since you and your pastor are not friendly and in order to calm yourself and be productive rather than adversarial, before you meet with your pastor, you might say a prayer of thanksgiving for the good work that he is accomplishing, even if it is not everything that you would desire from parish life. This is not said to judge you at all, just as a friendly reminder as I tend to get very nervous before a meeting like this.