01 Dec 2015
Involving young families in the Mass
The Southern Cross newspaper – December 2015
Every Sunday nine-year-old Samuel Morley nags his mum and dad to take him to Mass.
Samuel is in charge of the PowerPoint presentation at St Matthew Church, Birdwood, and is adamant that he is the only person in the congregation who can do the job properly.
“We’re working on his humility,” said his mum Pamela Morley at a forum on young families at the Croydon Park Catholic parish hall last month. “But if you want your children to nag you about going to Mass, give them a job.”
The forum heard from two couples – the Morleys and the Smailes – about their experience of Church and parish life. More than 80 attendees also listened to a report by Chancellor Heather Carey from the New Directions Task Force and from Kirsty Drew about the work of Centacare Catholic Family Services in providing assistance to vulnerable families.
Pamela, mother of three and the pastoral associate at the Adelaide Hills parish, said that young people should not be under-estimated.
“Give my daughters a candle and a book to take to children’s liturgy and it makes their day,” she said.
Pamela told the forum that families needed to be made to feel “really welcome”, not just handed a bulletin as they walk in the door, but offered a cup of tea and fellowship as well.
“Families don’t want to be a burden, we don’t want to be made to feel embarrassed by our children, people need to talk to the children because it makes the parents feel better,” she said.
When Pamela first came to Adelaide from Ireland she went to Mass for the first time at Magill and said she was given a “connection card” which she didn’t expect much from but within days a lady from the parish had called her and wanted to come to the house for a cup of tea. “Being Irish, this was my currency,” she said, adding that the important thing for her was to be put in touch with another young mum with a child. “It was exactly what I needed.”
When the family moved to Birdwood, they were also warmly welcomed. “It was enormous,” she said. “Now we have three children and the parishioners are so grateful you’re there, they love to see the kids...
“They say it takes a village (to raise a child well)… I have a massive village for my children.”
Aberfoyle Park parishioners Rebecca and Allan Smailes spoke of the “busyness” of families.
They said one of the big issues facing young Catholic families was school fees, especially tuition fees which could be up to three times higher than Catholic schools interstate.
Rebecca said there were many migrants coming to Mass on Sundays but they couldn’t afford to send their children to Catholic schools and the Church was “missing out on their vibrant faith”.
The Smailes, who conduct a youth program called Care Factor for 11-14 year olds, said they get a lot out of mixing with Catholic couples. They host a family Mass and morning tea which helps them to connect with other Catholic families and makes their children realise there are other families like theirs.
Their faith formation has included participating in Ministry to the Newly Marrieds, retreats and attending the bi-annual Light of the Nations Easter pilgrimage. “We also have friends who are in Consecrated Life which is important because it shows our children that this is one option for living your faith,” said Rebecca.
“We pray and say grace with our children, we are involved in sacramental programs and we believe it is important for children to have opportunities to serve such as being on the welcoming roster.”
Another activity that keeps them busy is running marriage preparation courses and they have also organised affordable holidays for young families.
“We are blessed by the formation we have received through Fr Charles Lukati,” said Rebecca.
Mrs Carey said some of the feedback she received was that the sacramental program was a pivotal moment for engagement with young families and could be the beginning of a lifelong relationship with the Church.
She said several parishes were already developing strategies for maintaining this connection such as birthday cards, anniversary cards, gatherings of families and school information packs. “There is more to be done,” she said.
“Young families will not become part of our parishes automatically, like they did in the past…we need to engage with them where they are…invite and welcome them… and encourage them to become connected to the parish through other families”
She also referred to new ways of engaging families through programs such as Alpha, Messy Church and Café Church.
Photo: HAPPY TO SERVE: Dane, Cascia, Erin and Hannah Smailes.