Building the parish-parent bridge for faith development

Building the parish-parent bridge for faith development
Leisa Anslinger, Director of Growing Up Catholic, speaks to catechetical leaders in the Diocese of Camden on Nov. 12, at Saint Charles Borromeo Parish in Sicklerville. Pictured talking with Deb Smaldore, coordinator of Religious Education at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Haddon Heights, she gave a presentation on partnering with parents in children’s spiritual formation. Photo by James A. McBride

Leisa Anslinger, Director of Growing Up Catholic, speaks to catechetical leaders in the Diocese of Camden on Nov. 12, at Saint Charles Borromeo Parish in Sicklerville. Pictured talking with Deb Smaldore, coordinator of Religious Education at Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Haddon Heights, she gave a presentation on partnering with parents in children’s spiritual formation.
Photo by James A. McBride

SICKLERVILLE — How can parish catechetical leaders build relationships with parents, and guide them in forming lasting Catholic faith in their children?

On Nov. 12, 66 catechetical leaders, pastors and school principals gathered at Saint Charles Borromeo Parish to hear a national speaker respond to that question.

Leisa Anslinger, director of Growing Up Catholic, shared tools on how parishes can engage families during an all-day event on formation and sharing, called “Building Bridges to the Heart of Discipleship: Engaging and Partnering with Parents.”

The “bridges,” she emphasized, are to welcome families, engage them in the faith, and share the faith with them.

“We need to evangelize,” she said, and “constantly look for ways to connect with families where they are.”

In inviting parents, sharing the faith with them, and helping them to recognize their important role in the parish community, they feel “deeply rooted,” she added, and more likely to be engaged in parish life and parish activities, more committed to a spiritual prayer life, and more likely to invite others.

Anslinger cited a recent CARA (Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate) study revealing that while 93 percent of parents believe it is “very important” for their children to celebrate the sacraments of Holy Eucharist and confirmation, 68 percent of them do not have their children enrolled in formal religious education programs. In other words, the desire for the faith is there, if not the enrollment. Ultimately, she argued, engagement and welcome create commitment.

“Belonging leads to believing,” she stressed. “How can we be that salt that builds bridges to evangelize them and make disciples of Christ?”

Sister Kathy Burton, SSJ, co-director of the Diocese of Camden’s Office of Faith and Family Life that sponsored the day, called Anslinger’s message “excellent, helpful and informative” with “solid, practical tools.”

“Parish catechists should work with parents who are the primary faith builders for their family,” she said.

“Parents should be encouraged and given tools” to create healthy and faithful families, with daily prayer rituals, celebrations of liturgical seasons like Advent or Lent, or reclaiming Sunday as a day of rest and worship, she said.

The Office of Faith and Family Life, with Anslinger, is in the process of creating a survey for parish families regarding their faith practices. In the coming weeks, Sister Kathy noted, families will complete the survey, and Anslinger and researchers will compile results at the diocesan and parish level and return them to the Office of Faith and Family Life.

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