Connect: Bringing People Closer to Christ
by: Clayton Atkins
If you ever stop by St. John XXIII on a Wednesday evening during the school year, be prepared, because you may not recognize the Church. The first thing you will notice is the noise: the peaceful quiet and joyous singing that we usually associate with the empty building or the celebration of Mass, is replaced with the bustling sounds of children chattering excitedly and trying to sit still as they listen to their teachers explain our faith. Although it may be difficult for you to find your way in between the tables, chairs, and dividers of the makeshift classrooms that litter the narthex and the Church itself, if you did so, you would witness a stunning display of God working through human beings. After long days at work and school, parents bring their children to our Church, where volunteers teach them the basics of our faith and prepare them to partake in the Sacramental Rites. So, although you may not recognize the arrangement of the building, or the sounds echoing throughout it, you will undoubtedly still feel at home in the atmosphere of love and fellowship that binds us together at Mass—it is present in the shared community of faith and learning that takes place on these Wednesday evenings.
It was in this atmosphere that Sally Pratt was called to undertake a new ministry. Having recently moved here in Oct. of 2014, Sally, a retired nurse, was looking for a way to get more involved in the Church and deepen her faith. Sally has been immersed in her spirituality for her entire life: she went to a Cursillo retreat weekend, the Spiritual Exercises, led retreats, and been involved in active parishes. But, newly retired, she was looking for a way to share her daily practices of faith and spirituality with others in a new and exciting way. After participating in the annual women’s retreat and experiencing a strong connection with our parish, she was praying about how she could continue to share her faith and to bring others to Christ. The very next day, she received an email from Holly Atkins, our Business Manager, and Chris Biel, our Director of Faith Formation, inquiring whether she would be interested in starting a new ministry at St. John XXIII.DOWNLOAD THE BULLETIN
Here at our Parish, no matter our age or level of spiritual development, we are privileged to have numerous opportunities to develop our faith: in addition to Faith Formation classes for children and young teens, there are also youth groups, young adult ministries, 65 & older singles brunches, men’s groups, women’s groups…the list goes on. However, Holly and Chris realized that there wasn’t a ministry specifically for parents, and in Sally, they saw an opportunity to remedy this. Sally jumped at the chance. Holly Atkins joked that she had never received an answer so quickly. Their idea was to offer busy parents a convenient time and place to grow in their faith, and when better to do so then when their children were already at Church, laying the foundation of their growing faith? And so, the “Growing in Faith” group was born. It is a small group of parents who meet with Sally while their children attend Faith Formation. When we share our faith with others in a safe, intimate, nurturing setting, we provide it with the space and love it needs to flourish.
It is easy for most of us to conceive of this concept of “growth” in regards to children. Of course children need to “grow” their faith; we are not born with faith—we need to cultivate it. Children need stories to listen to; teachers to educate them; role models to emulate. This seems obvious to us. But we often forget that adults have similar needs, and it is all too easy for us to neglect our own innate desire for spiritual growth as we get caught up in the daily struggles of modern life. Ironically, this call for spiritual development is of extreme importance to the very people who are often most likely to be too busy to answer it. It’s already a small miracle that, when you do walk into the Church on a Wednesday evening, you see so many children and parents, eager to learn more about our faith, which many of us sometimes take for granted.
Here, you will witness parents who have a million other things on their agenda, setting aside the time they know their children need to grow as Catholics.
The idea behind the “Growing in Faith” group is that parents, in particular, need to set aside time for their faith, too, because parents are their children’s first and greatest teachers. And this is where Sally comes in. She offers parents an opportunity to learn about their Catholic Faith in a small group setting. They can come as they are to share with the group or just soak up what others have to share. Parents are encouraged to take what they learn with the small groups and to share their faith with the children, such as setting aside five minutes to pray with their children, reading Sunday’s Gospel to them, or simply asking them how they experienced Christ’s presence throughout their day. Sally asserts that when parents take the time to do this with their children, Mass becomes so much more meaningful for everyone. When children see that their parents are actively engaged in their faith, they are encouraged to participate as well. Often Sally will try to structure the weekly parent meeting around a topic that their children will also be covering in their classes, but often they end up discussing topics that they, the parents, want to know more about such as the Mass, Adoration, Reconciliation, The Rosary, The chaplet of the Divine Mercy, Advent, Lent, Ignatius Prayers, Lectio Divina, and so much more. This way, families can share their faith with each other because everyone is on the same page.
Sally says that her goal is to “Bring people closer to Christ.” She maintains that Christ is always present in our lives, waiting for us to let him in. Meeting with others and sharing about our journeys in faith is one of many ways that we can do this. We would like to encourage anyone with a desire to deepen their faith to attend one of Sally’s “Growing in Faith” group gatherings. If you are already dropping your children off for Faith Formation, stay for the hour and grow closer to Christ. Who knows…in the time you would need to make it through Daniels traffic and back on an errand, you could have an experience that strengthens your connection with God, yourself, and your family. The Growing in Faith group meets in the Parish office kitchen on Wednesdays during Faith Formation. We hope to see you there.
“Sally is amazing and brings an excitement to learning more about our Faith with her passion and ideas. I love being able to spend the time with other parents who have the same faith, wants, and needs for their families. The group is wonderful and has helped me grow so much for myself, my husband, and my children.” – Angela