Several years ago the faith community within which I ministered adopted the Advent theme “Taking Hope to Others” for our seasonal focus. The idea was to encourage members to find ways of living out the hope the Christ Child brings in real and practical ways. I pondered what this might look like for my religious education families and how busy suburban families could possibly find ways to “take hope to others.” I struggled, as many do, to help families find meaning during this special time of year without overwhelming them. Still, it seemed that something more than family Advent devotions and activities were needed.
The Plan for Family2Family Advent Connections
Family2Family Advent Connections grew from a conviction that in order for families and communities to thrive and grow in faith, we must encourage relationships among members. In our community, we identified an established group of older members who had raised their families and a group of younger members making their way through the child-raising years. It seemed to me that helping these two groups develop bonds of friendship and faith would be beneficial to the community as a whole. We would be “taking hope to one another.” How would this work?
The goals of Family2Family Advent Connections were threefold.
- Build personal, meaningful connections between older community members and younger members in order to nurture a healthy, growing community of faith.
- Affirm the role of parents in raising faith-filled children and creating households of faith.
- Foster hope among families and provide networks of support by recognizing that there are no perfect families.
The plan was simple. We would invite religious education families to partner with older community members, who would act as “sponsors” during the Advent and Christmas seasons. Partnering families or households were asked to share the joys and challenges of celebrating Advent and Christmas while raising children—relating family traditions, humorous anecdotes, recipes, and favorite holiday stories or movies. Suggested topics included decorating traditions, meal traditions, gift-giving or service traditions, religious traditions, and ethnic or cultural traditions. Families were reminded of the importance of sharing oneself and that the objective was building relationships, not giving gifts or other tangible items. Families could share their stories in person, by mail, electronically, or by whatever means were most convenient, but were asked to connect at least once a week during the Advent season.
Evaluating Family2Family Advent Connections
How did Family2Family Advent Connections work? Thirty-four families/households (out of a community of 150 households) participated. Most did not know one another previously. Most were not sure what they were getting into or how to go about connecting. Many shared a meal at least once during the season or engaged in some kind of personal activity. One pair visited a holiday lights display together and shared hot cocoa and cookies afterwards.
On the Feast of the Epiphany, the sponsoring households were invited to join all the religious education families for a special breakfast. All partnering households expressed that some kind of meaningful interaction took place. Young families found great comfort in knowing that their efforts at raising faith-filled families were valuable and effective, regardless of the awkwardness and untidiness of their daily experiences. Older families found great value in sharing their life experiences.
In Luke’s Gospel, Mary sets out “with haste” to the household of her relative, Elizabeth, in order to share the news that she would bear the Christ Child to the world. She models for us the true meaning of the Advent season, that we too are to bear Christ to one another. May your families be blessed as they find ways to bear Christ to one another this Advent.