“In Marker 7.2, Unleash the Gospel calls us to care for and assist struggling families. The Family Support Group Coordinator is responsible for this work. This person should be available to meet with families, listen to their needs, and offer support, referrals, and resources as needed; they’ll also train volunteers to do the same. This person also organizes support groups for various needs – for example, groups for widows/widowers, families with special needs, and blended families. The Family Support Group Coordinator may also provide workshops for various needs such as care for aging parents, funeral planning, living wills, end-of-life issues, job loss, etc. This position works closely with the Director of Evangelical Charity to provide support as needed.”
–Introduction to Family Ministry in the Families of Parishes Structure
By now you’ve likely learned that the Mission Direct area of Family Ministry includes offering support for struggling families in the form of support groups, workshops and pastoral care. You also know that families of all shapes and sizes may be struggling for a few different reasons: unemployment, aging parents, children or adults with disabilities, infertility, pregnancy loss and many more.
The task of offering support groups and workshops for such a diverse set of needs within your Family of Parishes may seem insurmountable. Where do we start? Who will run all these groups and organize all these events? Here are some simple first steps to get started in Family Support Ministries.
1. Pray. The very first “good habit” listed in Unleash the Gospel is “docility to the Spirit.” (Catechetical Exposition 3.4) As with any new ministry or project, we must first take time to ask the Lord to send the Holy Spirit to inspire us, lead us in the right direction and guide our steps as we move forward. Gather a group of intercessors who commit to praying for your work throughout the year, or schedule a Holy Hour to pray for new ministries as your plans take shape. Ask the Lord to bring you the right volunteers, for knowledge of the resources to assist a family and for the parish community to lovingly receive those who are struggling.
2. Identify the Needs. First, start with your Family of Parishes pastoral and ministry staff to identify the known, ongoing and immediate needs. That may be the perfect starting point, but it’s always a good idea to survey your families, either via informal poll, an online survey or a specific family needs survey card for families to complete after Mass on Sunday.
3. Think outside the pews. Don’t forget to evaluate other needs within your community at large, and what your parish could offer to struggling families who haven’t been to Mass in a while. Meeting families at their practical need level is always an effective first step toward re-engaging lapsed families into the sacramental life of the parish. For example, if you know that online bullying is a concern at your local middle school, you could offer a workshop for local parents, students or families.
4. Develop a plan. Start by identifying one or two areas to support families to begin with based on the identified needs in your Family of Parishes. What that looks like may vary. It may be a one-time informational seminar or workshop, developing a community resource list or offering a support group series. Be sure to consider any additional needs of the families you want to serve, such as offering childcare for meetings, and ensuring that your hospitality team is warm and welcoming to newcomers. Then build from there and be flexible and responsive to family needs that may arise or that you find are trending in your Family of Parishes.
5. Assess your material resources. Look around your office and storage rooms and take an inventory of what you have that’s readily available and could help serve the needs you’re looking to meet. Maybe you have a bin full of scrap fabric that could be used for prayer blankets for the growing number of seniors in your parish who are dealing with chronic illness. Maybe you have a bunch of children’s books that could go in Mass kits for children with disabilities.
6. Assess your human resources. Consider who in your Parish Family has passion and experience around the need you’re trying to meet. Do you have a parishioner who is experienced in resume writing or job hunting, who could offer a workshop for recently unemployed parents? Maybe you have a mom who is raising children with disabilities who’s passionate about connecting with other families in similar circumstances. You can develop a list of parishioners who will offer their professional expertise, services and unique support to meet identified needs. Family Support Ministers should also work closely with their Directors of Evangelical Charity or the Archdiocesan Office of Evangelical Charity for referrals and resources to meet human needs like shelter or immigration support. The Office of Marriage Support can provide you with a list of Catholic Marriage and Family Therapists.
7. Don’t reinvent the wheel. The world of Catholic ministry resources has grown exponentially over the years. If you’re looking for support for a particular need from a Catholic perspective, chances are, there’s a book, a book study, a program, an online forum or a podcast for that already. Check out the SPARK database, where you can get ideas for different stages of conversion, different age groups and many different types of events and programs. Launching Small Groups is a great tool to use because the framework can be adapted to allow for groups centered around a particular circumstance or experience.
For more ideas and resources to develop your family support ministry, contact the Archdiocesan Office of Family Ministry:
Nicole Joyce, Associate Director of Family Ministry
David Grobbel, Marriage and Family Ministry Support Specialist
Tara Stenger, Family Ministry Coordinator & Engagement Support