Summer is a great time for busy families to relax and reconnect, enjoying warm weather and outdoor activities. Unfortunately, it can also be a time when many families take a vacation from faith formation. Our faith-formation programs themselves might be partly to blame: many programs run from September through May with no activity taking place during the summer. As a result, we reinforce the mistaken conception that faith formation is solely a catechetical endeavor that is the responsibility of the parish rather than a family affair that helps them live as disciples of Jesus.
Summer is a great time to reach out to families and build relationships with them, especially with families who we rarely see at the parish. It is a time for us as catechetical leaders to be missionary in our outreach. Faith formation does not always have to take place within the parish! As Pope Francis reminded us in his homily at the 28th World Youth Day in Rio De Janeiro, “Where does Jesus send us? There are no borders, no limits: he sends us to everyone.” If we are to help families understand that their faith is to be celebrated inside the parish and lived outside of the parish, then we must reach out to them during the summer months. One simple way to do this is by visiting families as they go about their lives.
Maggie M. is the director of religious education in an urban parish. She sees the summer break as an opportunity to build community with her families and to engage those families she might not ordinarily see. One of the ways that she and the parish staff do this is by attending sporting events at a recreational field, which is located just across the street from the parish. Maggie comments that this provides a “phenomenal opportunity to be kind and joyful neighbors to those in our community who might not otherwise think much about our parish (except for using the parking lot for sporting events!).”
Maggie and the parish staff have a very simple approach, which you could imitate at your parish, depending on the location. She gathered a team of parishioners to reach out to the families at the sporting field by giving away free ice cream to those in attendance. (Of course, they first secured the necessary permission to do so in advance.) Their approach was simple but effective:
- Before they went to the sporting field, they gathered as a team to uplift each other and to ask the Holy Spirit to be with them as they provided missionary outreach to the families coming to the games.
- They brought ice cream to the families during busy times when there were tournaments taking place at the field.
- They strove to be especially engaging, friendly, and welcoming. They let families know that the ice cream was a “thank you for being good neighbors of our parish.”
- They did not use this as an opportunity to invite people to Mass nor ask for donations for the ice cream.
Maggie notes that “there is no catch” in this approach:
It is about trust building, relationship building, and helping our community to know that our parish is interested in their lives. By literally going to their turf instead of staying in the building, we are bringing the love and joy of Jesus out to those who might be disengaged from any spirituality in their life.
After the success of their pilot last year, the parish staff will be doing the same outreach more frequently; they have even planned to set up a little booth at the field to distribute ice cream, engage in conversation, and cheer on their parishioners. Their banner at the booth will simply read, “With love from your neighbors at St. Paul Parish.”
As you consider how you might reach out to the families of your parish this summer, ask yourself three questions:
- What aspects of Maggie’s approach might work for you?
- Since the love of Jesus is portable, where can you take your faith-formation program and your catechists to reach out to families?
- How might you be more intentional about your summertime evangelization efforts?
If you have a summer evangelization strategy, please share it with us here. I would love to compile a list of these ideas for a future blog post!
Christ Our Life ensures knowledge of our faith, a firm sense of Catholic identity lived out in daily life, and an enthusiastic response by children and adults to the Church’s call for a New Evangelization.