Sunday, February 16, 2014

Creating a Parish Family

You may have read some of my recent book reviews:  How The West Really Lost God, Faith of the Fatherless and Worshipping the State --- which were in my first post on the Growth of Atheism.  You may have read some of my recent posts on the feelings of loneliness in the world, and the confusion over the word love:  Is it primarily for me to receive, or to give?  And you may have heard about recent surveys on the Catholic Church in America, or perhaps even participated in one in your parish (as I did recently).  There is all this information defining and quantifying problems out there --- one of the key ones is the disintegration of the family --- but much less real data or progress on what to do about it.
A thought came to me this morning as I knelt after Communion.
My series of blog posts on The Growth of Atheism will ultimately conclude with thoughts on what we can do about its rapid rise in this country, but that is a big picture.  We can each actually do something in a small picture, on our personal lives.  What came to me this morning is that in trying to support families or create better families, there are many ideas out there along the lines of “Here’s what I think we must do …” Many individuals have good ideas, but in my business career I learned that you can make much more progress, and quicker progress, if you don’t try to invent the wheel, but rather look at those rolling by you.  What are they doing?  And in the matter of creating family, of trying to facilitate a closeness, a feeling of not being alone, a feeling of being loved --- and perhaps even trying to find a place to give your love --- there are already many answers out there, answers we could try to imitate or adapt to our Parish family needs.  What I am talking about is the huge social media focus within the internet.
Most parishes, mine included, have a website to tell you the basics about the parish --- here we are.  Many parishes, mine included, publish a directory of parish members, names, addresses, phone numbers, and perhaps even email addresses.  Most parishes, mine included, publish a weekly bulletin: here’s what’s happening this week (and perhaps it might include some social info, like the sites of some area Christian talks, or even “Here’s what I have for sale”).  Most parishes have a gathering space right outside the worship space, and perhaps a coffee and donuts gathering after mass.  And most parishes have bulletin boards and/or media sites somewhere within the Church building, so info can be exchanged.  All this is good; all of this is communication among the parish family is what we are used to.  All this is so old fashioned.
None of this in itself BUILDS family, and little counters the increasing disintegration of the family.
On the internet, most people/families have a Facebook page, and many maintain websites or blogs.  They communicate with friends; they express views; they evangelize their faith in how they live their lives; they comment back and forth in real time: they communicate.  And in this communication, they know each other a little better.  Are they giving love with their internet activities?  Well, they are definitely taking the time to give of themselves, to write of their feelings, and perhaps with a goal of making others feel better.  Is this giving love?  I’d certainly say (without considering motives of their efforts), that this appears as a way of loving, of creating for a few people a relationship of giving.
And if we could create such relationships within a parish, focused on or at least available to parish members, I think this could be a means of creating better parish families.  Knowing that a specific group of people might be readers of their internet writings, authors might tailor their words to the family.
Logistically, what I am thinking is that a parish website --- your parish website --- should have a section for Parish Family.  In it could be sections on Facebook, Blogs, Events supported or participated in by parish members (like my Caregivers Support Group), and perhaps even the “I’ve got something to sell” section.  Within each section would be a list of names of parish members and next to each name the title of their Facebook page, blog, event, or item to sell.  Their name itself could be a link to the web site they maintain.  The site would have to be maintained by someone within the parish to ensure only parish members were listed there. 
With such a Parish Family section, parish members could contact one another easily, find out who in the parish has interests similar to theirs, find faith topics directly linked to their parish (with perhaps related events).  Unlike a parish directory with pictures and names, such a Parish Family area would create a REASON for parish members to contact one another, to get to know one another more, to learn from one another, and to find support from one another ---- just like a family.  Unlike “Small Faith Groups” which many parishes support, made up of random people, this family directory would enable people of like interests or backgrounds to contact one another.
I entered data from my parish’s recent survey of members.  I’d say the majority of parish members felt very good about our parish, what it does, and how it does it.  But there were a significant number whose responses indicated that they felt isolated.  Some seemed to indicate a need for some sort of personal support.  And some seemed to indicate single people living alone --- alone, like me, and feeling very alone.  The parish website, bulletins, directories, and gathering of strangers after mass, didn’t seem to mean anything to them. 
And these were the ones who participated in the survey.  What were the ones who didn’t participate in the survey thinking?  And what about the ones who only come on Christmas or Easter (some years)?  How do you reach those people, people to whom you might really wish to show love more often than the annual Christmas homily, people you’d really like to call your parish family?
I offered a suggestion here; surely there are better than mine.  I sent a note to a major Catholic Evangelization organization recently suggesting they create Catholic Family Apps for cell phones --- not games that friends can play together, but apps to link families together, to communicate, to express love, or to pray together.  You know, those things that used to DEFINE families in this country.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, but we need to start thinking of some, and we need to start communicating, in love.  The Roman historians, describing Christians, said: “See how they love one another.”  We need to create that same realization in the pagan society around us again.     


  1. Such an interesting idea. I think if there were something using social media that people could connect to each day, like a blog, or a Facebook page, it would help feel more connected to the parish and each other. But then, who could maintain that? You wouldn't want someone saying non-doctrinal things, so it would probably have to be a priest or doctrinally orthodox person who knows their stuff; and it can't be just event driven (notices of events) because I don't think that's compelling to most people.

    Maybe one thing would be short daily reflections by liturgical seasons: like Lenten reflections or suggestions; short posts on Twitter of something a saint said, or a pious prayer; maybe postings daily dealing with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Getting people to be able to make time for a spiritual thought might start many people wanting to know each other.

    If someone were to do something where people identify themselves would be area of concern I think. I do want to know people at my parish and for them to know me, but I don't know if I'd be too happy with just anyone on the internet being able to know things about my whereabouts and family and so on, the way a public forum might be. You could make signing in contingent on parish registration, but who knows if everyone who registers as a parishioner is trustworthy? (Kind of a not so nice story: I recall meeting a couple at my former parish who, it turns out, owned a realty business, and joined the parish to meet elderly people so they could purchase their homes from them. Often they were getting the buildings at bargain prices because the elderly people didn't realize the true value of their homes, and the amount offered seemed enormous compared to what they had paid for it 50 years before. Not nice people, but very charming.)
    But you are right. The Church needs to be able to use social media better, and I think it could be a very effective evangelization and community building tool. I have often wished my parish's web site contained more interesting information than events and Mass times. ~ Fran

  2. Well, my thought on maintenance would be any internet-savvy person could volunteer to restrict links to only parish members. As far as orthodoxy, what I'm saying is to publish links of existing websites by parishioners, nothing new. If they are very orthodox sites, great. If they are so-so, great also. These are my neighbors; if I know they are confused on some Church teaching, I can comment. This is no different than what happens in small faith-sharing groups that many parishes support. If there were blatant abuses, I'm sure someone would report it to the parish site caretaker, who could delete any offenders from the site. And perhaps even the local parish priest, deacons, or religious ed teachers could agree to glance at postings, offering orthodox comments to anyone who is confused. How else will they learn --- especially those who rarely attend parish events?

    I know this isn't the end-all answer, Fran. I just think we have to do something active to promote families, whose destruction seems to be at the root of our cultures problems. Asking the priest to do yet more is too much to ask. Asking some organization or diocese to create the end-all one-stop fix for families is too much to ask. Asking parishioners to look at each others thoughts, worries, and faith confusion doesn't seem to be too much to ask ---- they are doing it already for strangers who might live half-way around the world.