Ministering to families


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

Sometimes when you reach out, nobody takes your hand. “You could be reaching out for help and nobody helps you. You could be reaching out to help someone and they don’t want your help,” observes Clark McFerren, an English teacher at Regina High School and director of St. Patrick Parish’s RCIA program, both in Iowa City.


Still, those negative scenarios should not stop people from trying. “Always be a little bit willing to go out of your comfort zone,” McFerren said during his “Reaching Out to Families” presentation for the Vision 20/20 Convo­cation at St. Ambrose Uni­versity-Davenport in June.

McFerren broke down three principles of missionary discipleship as they apply to families: reaching out, accompaniment and encounter. He encouraged participants to take a closer look at the families in their parish community and to find opportunities to meet them where they are. “When families are reaching out to us, what do they need from us?”


Many times, families reach out to a parish when they are seeking the sacraments. That need provides an opportunity to dig a little deeper to figure out the best way to minister to these families so they stay involved in the parish after their loved ones complete sacramental preparation.

While it is important to engage parents as their children go through sacramental preparation, it is also important to get to know couples preparing for the sacrament of marriage. “I think that’s one place to begin.”

Accompaniment could involve paying attention to major events in parishioners’ lives and taking time to acknowledge them and offer a helping hand such as when a new baby is born.

People in the parish who work with families should consider their own faith journeys and be open to sharing them so that families can see what an encounter with Christ looks like.

This presentation on reaching out to families is available online via podcast at Most of the presentations from the Vision 20/20 Convo­cation are available for viewing and/or listening.

Topics include, sharing faith stories; evangelizing youths and young adults; accompanying immigrants; evangelizing the “churched;” hospitality; evangelizing in small parishes; and church teaching on sexuality and sexual identity.

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