In his book, Excellence in Ministry: Best Practices for Successful Catechetical Leadership (part of the Effective Catechetical Leader series from Loyola Press and NCCL), my friend Tom Quinlan wisely suggests the following:
My strong exhortation for parishes today is to front-load their efforts at impacting family systems. There is much more proverbial bang for the buck in doing front-loaded, early family evangelization ministry than anything later down the road! From my experience, baptismal ministry gets next-to-nothing in parish budgets and no staffing to speak of and barely registers on the landscape of parish ministries. This is stunningly myopic in an era where evangelization is so desperately needed and increasingly invoked. Whether or not you are charged with overseeing the baptismal ministry in your parish, be an advocate for this mind-set shift among parish leaders: the most important ministry for renewal in the life of a parish is baptismal ministry with follow-up opportunities that invite parents to learn Catholic/Christian parenting skills between Baptism and First Eucharist.
I couldn’t agree more! With that in mind, I’d like to share two ideas that I used when I was in parish ministry to engage parents through baptismal preparation.
Baptismal Crosses: It is common in many parishes today to have families work with their child to produce a First Communion Banner to hang on the pew where they will sit as a family for their child’s First Holy Communion. The idea of a baptismal cross is similar in that it involves the parents in creating a meaningful keepsake for their child’s Baptism and heightens the visibility of young parents/families in the parish. Very simply, when parents attend baptismal preparation sessions, they are invited to design a cross made of whatever material they choose (usually felt) that is no more that 8 x 11 inches and includes their child’s name on it, along with any other symbols or words of their choosing (for example, the meaning of their child’s name, a Scripture quote, or a phrase from the baptismal rite). These crosses are then displayed on a bulletin board in the church vestibule or narthex for the entire liturgical year, along with pictures from each Baptism.
Baptism Reunion: During the Easter season, all families that celebrated a Baptism in the previous year are invited to a Baptismal Reunion Mass during which the families are called forward for a blessing and invited to a breakfast following the Mass. After the final blessing and as they are on their way to the breakfast, parents retrieve their baptismal cross from the bulletin board and are encouraged to display it in their child’s room at home.
As Tom Quinlan emphasizes, “The more you can front-load your evangelizing efforts to families when they are first establishing their patterns and practices, the greater the impact.”
If your parish has integrated a practice such as baptismal crosses or reunions, please share your experiences.