Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Starting a Parish Ministry: Our Story

A few months after coming into The Church, I was approached by a parish staff remember and asked to take over one of the struggling ministries.  Our parish had sort-of started implementing an Elizabeth Ministry and it was not getting a very strong response from the community.  I raised the issue with my husband and his response was great.  He pointed out that my dissertation (I graduated the year before with my PhD in Education Psychology) was on the transition to parenting, and finding ways of supporting parents in this transition.

The Elizabeth Ministry is an international movement designed to offer hope and healing on issues related to childbearing, sexuality, and relationships (http://www.elizabethministry.com).  When he pointed out that this was an invitation to do at a parish level, precisely what I had always talked about wanting to do on a community level, there was no further discussion.  But after assessing our needs, looking at the Elizabeth Ministry curriculum and talking to their offices, I decided to take the ministry in a slightly different direction.

Our parish community was really needing to be knit closer.  We have a wonderful parish school but had many young families (like myself) who were not connected at that time with the school.  Even things like the parish festival didn't seem like they were for 'us'.  We showed up for mass, shook hands, smiled at other parents with little ones, and then left without even getting their names.  Having grown up in a church that was more 'social club' that 'scripture', I wanted a little more social time. I craved meeting other Catholic couples with little ones.

I put the Elizabeth Ministry to the side, and based our program off of MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers), which is another huge international Christian (mostly/all protestant) organization.  I was attending at MOPS at a local big-bible church and loving it.  They were light on the message of God, but it was present.  They met every two weeks for great food (and lots of it!), childcare, coffee, fellowship and either an awesome craft or a great speaker.

My first step was to get some other women involved.  At our fall ministry fair, I walked around and asked anyone with kids "would you be interested in meeting other mom's in the parish?"  I remember meeting my (now) best friend this way.  She was surrounded by the most precious 4 little girls dressed in matching dresses.  They had been sitting behind us in mass and since I only had the two boys at the time it really made an impression.  I approached her and she responded like a drowning woman who had been thrown a life preserved.  I loved her enthusiasm and optimism! Responses like hers told me we were on to something special!

At the ministry fair I was able to gather the names and contact information for women who were interested in serving in the ministry, and also those who were interested in participation.  Having a ministry run by the very same people it is trying to serve can be a little tough.  We want community, but we aren't exactly at a stage in life where we have an abundance of free time or energy.  We were at that point in life (still are!) were we were lucky to be able to shower for 5 minutes without being interrupted and now I was asking these women to help me start an entire ministry?  I did find a handful of wonderful women however who had great ideas. After a few months we had a rough framework to continue to build upon in the following years.  Each 'semester' I would sit down and prayerfully plan things out.  I am a huge planner so I had to remind myself to pray more and plan less.

We met regularly every 2 weeks and took a break in the summer.  We had light snacks, and usually had a speaker or discussion topic or craft.  We had local Catholic authors come speak and we even did a book study.   My favorite discussion was on NFP - I had the moms send me lists of questions to ask our priest, then I brought those answers to our group.  I did not enjoy the uncomfortable conversation with the priest (he was probably more uncomfortable than I was!), but the moms had a stellar discussion and we packed the room that night!  We had playmates at the park and started a Monday morning rosary "pray and play" group that still meets after mass in one of the spare rooms of the parish.  We did a few fundraisers and hosted a beautiful, huge, Mother-Daughter Tea each spring.  I would send out supportive notes to the group via email and our email list grew to well over a hundred.  We had a prayer warrior who would take prayer request from the group and send our prayer intention email blasts as they came up, and slowly, the women of the parish began to be connected online and in our church home as well.

After being the face behind the ministry (there were lots of hands doing the work!) for about 5 years, I turned the ministry over to another young mom.  I spent a year with her shadowing me and slowly taking over responsibility, and then she took off with it.  Another mom took it over when she moved the next year and it still evolving to meet the needs of the parish.

I share this post with you, along with the 'how to' post, because it is important that you tailor any ministry to meet the needs of your parish.

This ministry was never MY ministry - it belonged to God.  I was merely the hands he choose to use to get it started.  What I wanted, or what I envisioned was less important than being open to what the parish needed and God intended.  There was one night in particular that I really did NOT want to go.  I prayed about it a little in the car along the way.  I was just feeling run down and attendance was alway low in May.  We had a talk about Mary planned and I was worried that we wouldn't have a good turnout.  A random woman from the parking lot ended up joining us that night for the presentation.  Afterwards she shared that she had been contemplating suicide as she was driving that night.  She just drove by the church and on a whim turned into the parking lot.  She was not a parishioner and had been away from the church for years.  She was just one woman feeling lost and alone in the world and God directed her to us.

We never know why God has called us to do something, but when we feel his call, it is our duty as faithful servants to respond with a loving "yes".  If you are feeling God's call, then open your heart.  Ask him to provide you with the people and the guidance you need.  Go to adoration with a notebook and just listen to what he speaks to your heart.  I will be praying for you.  Feel free to comment below if you want guidance or send me a private comment through the comment box on the home page.

Thanks for stopping by to think with me!

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