When I am asked to present at a parent meeting (First Reconciliation or First Eucharist), I am often met by a lot of what I call “stone faces”—a look on the parents’ faces that says they would rather be anywhere else but here! Don’t get me wrong: the folks are cordial, just not very emotive, and I remind myself that most are coming straight from work or a long day at home.
A big part of my job is to melt those stone faces. Here are some of the strategies I employ to warm things up a bit:
- I arrive very early so I can set up my projector and have a welcome image on the screen. I also put on some instrumental sacred music in the background and set up a prayer space front and center.
- The pastoral staff that is hosting the gathering usually has a table with refreshments near the entrance so that folks are greeted warmly and welcomed to make themselves at home.
- After I’m introduced, I lead a simple opening prayer that includes having five or six parents, chosen by the catechetical leader on the spot, prayerfully carry sacred objects to place on the prayer table as sacred music is played.
- After a Scripture reading, I invite prayers of petition/intercession to be shared aloud. (Before the prayer begins, I alert them to this and invite them to begin thinking of people who need our prayers.) This time three separate people (not the pastor or staff) shared intercessions! That may not sound like a big deal, but many of these people have never been invited to share prayers publicly.
- Early in my presentation, I ask parents to briefly share something non-threatening with those around them, just to break the ice. This most recent time, I asked them to share what costume their children put on for Halloween last Fall. I used that as a springboard to talking about “putting on Christ” and how we are called to “wear” our baptismal garments each day and to imitate Christ in all we do. After this brief exchange, smiles begin to appear.
- My First Reconciliation presentation is brief and invites the parents to consider ways they can help their children to prepare to celebrate the sacrament.
- I tell parents to take their children out to celebrate the day of their First Reconciliation—not a party, but a simple celebration of the fact that their child is encountering Christ in this special way. Going out to celebrate is a way to express to their child how important this experience is for the family. I get a lot of smiles with that suggestion!
- This year, I was delighted to be able to show a 10-minute DVD segment from the new God’s Gift Reconciliation Video Series that includes children and adults reflecting on the meaning of Reconciliation and offering advice for those preparing for the sacrament. Immediately following, I once again invited parents to turn to a neighbor and share what they thought was the best advice or insight about the Sacrament of Reconciliation they heard in the video. Again, I alerted them before the video that I would be doing this so that they would be prepared. This was a simple two-minute conversation. The video segment was very well-received and modeled for parents how to talk about their faith. The sharing was non-threatening, because it asked parents to share something they heard articulated on the video. Following the video and sharing, folks looked very relaxed, and smiles were prevalent.
- I always make a heartfelt invitation for parents to take advantage of the opportunity to go to Confession as well and especially emphasize that this could be a wonderful opportunity if any have felt distanced from their Catholic faith. The pastor and DRE reiterated this, and it was very warm and welcoming—no finger-wagging, just an invitation to grow closer to Jesus.
- After the presentation, the DRE, school principal, and the pastor offered some brief remarks and reassurances, and then folks were thanked. Refreshments were once again served, and some joyful sacred music played in the background. Inevitably, several parents came forward and personally expressed their gratitude for a meaningful experience.
None of the above sounds like rocket science, nor is it very revolutionary. However, it is the small things that create an atmosphere that emphasizes relationships, caring, support, and joy. These are all important ingredients for the New Evangelization and for an audience that, in many cases, has one foot in the door of the Church (with their child in parish religious education or the school) and the other foot outside, not so sure they want to be “all-in!”
What are some of the little things you do at parent meetings to make parents feel more welcome, at ease, and comfortable in a faith setting?
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