By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
The family is God’s “original small faith-sharing group” and forming families, whatever their size or composition, is essential to building the domestic church that brings Christ into the world. Marriage and family expert Greg Popcak and his wife, Lisa, an expert in learning styles and strategies, shared that message during a recent virtual workshop with faith leaders and ministers.
Greg Popcak describes a “domestic church” as a household of persons united to God and each other through the sacramental life of the Church and committed to living out the Christian/Trinitarian vision of love in their relationships with each other and the world.
The Popcaks’ workshop “Evangelizing Families: Ways to Strengthen the Domestic Church” resonated with parish and ministry leaders in the Diocese of Davenport who spoke with the Catholic Messenger recently. The Davenport Diocese and Archdiocese of Dubuque organized the event to celebrate the Year of Amoris Laetitia Family. A follow-up virtual workshop on May 10 hosted by the Dubuque Archdiocese further explored ways to support parents and families.
The Popcaks’ workshop was “timely for us,” said Tasha Havercamp, who with her husband, Michael, are directors of Evangelization and Mission for St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Davenport. The parish is shifting its religious education to more of a family formation approach. “Everybody is responsible for the mission of the Church. Families (households) are perfect to hone in on,” Tasha Havercamp said.
Research shows that the “most important place for kids to pick up the faith is at home,” she said. For families worried about whether they are equipped to pass on the faith, she offers reassurance. “You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to be a witness.” Parishes can provide resources to assist families. “I think we ‘siloed’ faith for a while. We need to be more creative, more collaborative.”
Tasha Havercamp sees this effort as a slow-growth process. Families who model their faith in an organic way by talking about their faith and about God could inspire other families to do so, she believes. Faith formation is about taking faith into the home and outside the home. “God is with us at the table and when we talk to our neighbors.”
The Popcaks’ workshop inspired Sharon Roling, principal of St. Joseph Catholic School in DeWitt, to share ideas she believes would benefit the school’s students and their families. “We must be intentional in our planning to provide opportunities during family/parent gatherings to pray, share faith stories and discuss faith questions. If organizers can lead by example and give a taste of what this could look like, there is a greater likelihood of building up the domestic church.”
“These gatherings can be creative in the design. Have a faith discussion before school activities, family games or bingo or a meal or movie night.” On Grandparents’ Day, celebrate Mass and then have a pizza lunch at school. Provide the time and opportunity for faith conversations between grandchild and grandparents, which could be an incentive for future conversations.
Roling loves the Popcaks’ concept of family rituals — work, talk, pray and play. “They suggested that family chores be done together, instead of ‘divide and conquer.’ Make/schedule time for conversation and play. Bring prayer into the home, going beyond grace before meals. These rituals become their own prayer.”
“I also want to be intentional with our younger families. I would love to start a Young Parents Group where parents can come together to talk about faith as they work to build their own domestic church. This does not have to happen in the parish hall.” Another idea: include the domestic church at Mass. “Let’s expand our perspective of ushers, for example. Let’s have a family greet parishioners as they enter the church. I know the children will be welcoming by their very nature. For the collection of envelopes, young children can help their parents pass the baskets. I believe a second-grader could independently complete this ministry. Just think of the joy that it would bring to those in the pews. Perfection is not required,” Roling said.
“I’m excited about continuing to build up the domestic church. All of the research is showing that’s how we pass on the faith. What we do in the (parish) building doesn’t matter if we don’t get parents involved,” said Kelley Tansey, director of religious education for St. Alphonsus Parish in Mount Pleasant.
This year, she introduced a monthly faith formation opportunity for families who gathered between Masses on Sunday morning. They began with social time, after which students headed to classrooms for instruction and parents stayed together for conversation and discussion. It was an opportunity to build community, Tansey said. She also sent lessons home that families could adapt based on their children’s ages (grades K-6). Sometimes they read a story, baked or played a game together. Older children participated in a youth-ministry model of faith formation on Wednesday nights.
“Some families love the new program and other families hate it,” Tansey said. Some want to return to the classroom model exclusively, but the parish is short of volunteers for religious education. She remains hopeful and positive. “I’m trying to listen to survey results and what I can do to meet as many needs as possible.”
Ana de la Torre, director of religious education for St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Ottumwa, sees examples of the Popcaks’ message demonstrated in her parish. The parish’s pastor, Father James Betzen, C.PP.S., and Sister Irene Munoz, CHM, multicultural minister for the Ottumwa area, “work together to try to equip parents and students of our parish all the time. I see them trying to find ways to bring families together in our multicultural Church.”
Father Betzen, for example, offers the children’s bulletin for students to take home and learn with their parents about the Sunday Gospel. “We offer many options to parents and students, such as studying at home with a grade-level book so they are learning and growing in faith. A mobile app also helps them learn and grow in faith,” she said. Parents find the resources helpful and “often provide great feedback on how these options helped them and strengthen their relationship with God and with their children. There is always room to grow, and everything we learned will definitely help us to achieve our goals.”
Marianne Agnoli, diocesan coordinator of Marriage and Family Life, sees parishes working toward building the domestic church in various ways, as parish leaders and ministers have described in this article. Some parish ministers are engaging whole households in various community outreach projects.
The Popcaks emphasize the diversity of households and the need for inclusivity. Agnoli said the “how-to” for building a domestic church in the midst of this diversity “will look different in each circumstance. The hope is to have ministry leaders look at the parish as a family of families. Instead of primarily offering programs geared for specific individuals (men, women, children, youth, divorced, singles, etc.) they are being encouraged to explore in what ways some of the activities in those ministries might be adapted to include all members of a household.”
Agnoli finds great hope “in the enthusiastic responses I heard from the parish groups that participated in the workshops. The Office of Faith Formation will be available for any parish, school ministry team or parish/school leader to discuss how to integrate the Liturgy of Domestic Church model into their current and future ministries. We will also continue to curate and share ideas and resources that parishes and schools might find helpful as they explore how best to assist the families they serve.”
(Contact Marianne Agnoli at email@example.com.)