How to Expose Your Children to a Faith Community

This post is part of a nine post series on introducing your children to the faith.  Today’s focus is on creating a faith-based community around your child.

Even before you become parents, it’s important to find a faith community you can join, and make friends.  Although it is wonderful to make friends with people of all faiths, when you are really struggling in your life, you want to rely on someone who shares your faith.  This is especially true when you have children.  Your faith community will help strengthen your child’s knowledge and understanding of the faith.  For instance, I have found so much more encouragement with my moms’ Bible Studies than with the general moms’ groups I have attended.  Further, if you become friends with others who share your faith, then your children will also make friends who share their faith.  I remember from going to public school thinking that all the other children were just like me – going to church every Sunday, knowing about God and Jesus.  As an adult, I understand that very few actually were.  Because I didn’t have strong friendships in my church growing up, as an adult I don’t have any lifelong friends who share my faith.

The easiest place to look for such a community is your church.  Unfortunately, the Catholic Church has tended to hide its community in recent years.  Believe it or not, there actually is a vibrant faith community in most Catholic parishes, but the majority of families simply attend mass and go home.  Community events and groups are not well organized or advertised.   So other than shaking a few hands at the sign of peace, families rarely talk to other families at church.  If you do not have school-aged children attending your parish’s Catholic School, you may be left behind.

Here are some ways to find a faith community:

1.  Attend the Same Mass Each Week

Perhaps you can even attend daily mass!  Sit in the same pew or general area of the church.  Engage in eye contact with those around you at the Sign of Peace, firmly shaking their hands.  If you are so bold, tap them on the shoulder and introduce yourself after mass!  Have your children shake hands as well.

2.  Attend Every Church Function

I mean every – single – one.  The most common of these are donut Sundays, and who doesn’t like a good donut?  Also: pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, St. Joseph’s tables, Bingo nights (if your parish is so lucky) and so on.  Find other parishioners who look like they match your life situation and sit with them.  Introduce yourself.

3.  Join a Bible Study

Joining a Bible study changed my life and introduced me to other moms who are in the same situation as me.  In our area, though, the Bible studies are not well advertised or explained.  In addition, the Bible study I am a part of occurs during the morning and offers childcare.  When I was a working mom, I was unable to attend.  Only later did I find out of less well advertised Bible studies for women that occurred at night!

4.  Look for “Underground” Mom’s Groups

For some reason, the community aspect of the church is not well advertised in the bulletins.  You may have to put on your deerstalker cap and play detective to find mom’s groups at your parish.  Call the parish office to ask, dig through the website, or just start asking young mothers you see.  I have found so many “hidden” groups in my area this way: mommy confession and adoration groups, mommy prayer groups, homeschooling groups, and additional Bible studies.

5.  Volunteer However You Can

About the only way I can give back these days is to make meals, so I have joined the lists of women making meals for new moms.  And Bingo!  Every time I drop off a meal, I meet a new mom!  It’s kind of funny how that works.  You can help in other little ways, even if you are busy with young children.  Ask your spouse to watch the children while you volunteer.  Help set out missals in the pews at the end of the quarter (it’s fast and easy).  Find out if your parish has an Altar society that needs help with decorating the church.  Volunteer to help with coffee and donuts – your whole family has to go to church anyway, your spouse can wrangle the children while you set up in the community room.

6.  Invite the Pastor Over

The best way to make community is to get to know the pastor, who knows all the other parishioners.  You can bet he knows about the “underground” groups, because they would need his blessing to meet at the church.  At the very least, you are making a connection with someone who can help you along on your faith journey and provide encouragement in your own family.

7.  Have Your Husband Join the Knights of Columbus

In most parishes, the Knights of Columbus are the most active group by far.  Unfortunately, this is a men’s only group.  However, many Knights clubs have Ladies’ Auxiliaries.  In addition, if your husband gets involved in Knights events, he is likely to need your help.  He will meet other men, who can introduce their wives to you!

8.  Don’t Discount the Older Parishioners

If you sign up for a Bible study and get there only to find it stock with people in their mid 50’s, don’t back out!  These people can provide great encouragement to you in your stage of life.  They know what you are going through now.  Further, they tend to have more time on their hands, as their own children have grown up.  They can provide backup childcare or meals if you get sick.  You may even find yourself able to impart some wisdom onto them!

9.  Enroll Your Children in the Parish School

The best way to get your children surrounded by a faith community, is to surround them with peers of the same faith.  It’s nice that mom and dad have good Christian friends, but what about the kids?  Many parishes offer preschools as well – sometimes parent and me classes for children as young as two!  And if finances are an issue, talk to the pastor or parish office.  Most parishes will be glad to give you needs based scholarships.

10.  Don’t Forget Your Original Faith Community

That’s right – your family!  You all may have grown up and left home, but you were raised with the same values.  Your brothers and sisters are a great faith based support network.  They are hopefully raising their children in the faith, too, which means your children’s cousins can be some great Christian friends!

11.  Join a MOPS Group

MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) is a Christian group for young mothers.  Go to their website and find a group meeting near you.  The group is nondenominational, so although they are not explicitly Catholic, neither are they explicitly Protestant.  I found a MOPS group that meets at a nearby Catholic church, and most of the moms are practicing Catholics.  However, we share our faith with Protestants and Catholics alike; at the end of the day we are all Christians, and these are a positive and uplifting group of women to join.

One thing I have learned about MOPS since joining, is that is nominally Christian.  We pray, we hold the same values, and we talk about church.  But the focus of the group is moms.  (As opposed to my Bible study where the focus is studying the Bible).  It’s a slight difference, and frankly it’s not a big deal if you are trying to surround yourself with a faith community.  Just because we don’t spend the entire session at MOPS talking about our faith doesn’t mean we don’t practice it.  You can meet amazing mothers who share your faith.  Dive into the deeper stuff offline sometime!

12.  Be the Change

And finally, be the change you want to see.  Some parishes have a more active community life than others.  If you find yourself in a dry parish, talk to your pastor about starting a mom’s group.  There will be growing pains at first – for instance, if you cannot arrange quality, safe childcare, you may have to work with your moms to meet with the little ones around.  If your church doesn’t offer meals to new moms, start a list.  Most importantly, if you start a group advertise in the bulletin.  There are too many other moms out there wandering around like lost sheep looking for some community to continue the tradition of “underground” mom’s groups.

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