In part 1 of this series, I began a conversation about the need for intentional diversity in ministry. I explored the ways in which we could encourage people of different gifts and talents to join forces to more effectively serve the Lord.
Diversity is a word that is being used often today in various contexts, but I will continue to focus on only a few areas where we can work to improve our ministry in America.
What kind of Diversity?
Ministries in America could benefit from a greater and intentional diversity of age of target audiences. I’m aware that this could present a daunting challenge ahead of parishes because many ministries are built around segregation of ages. This is most notable in religious education that often mimics the scholastic grouping of grades by age, but it’s seen throughout the parish in other ways as well.
I’m not advocating for an outright revolution in formation for children, but it’s worth looking at how we can learn from the Montessori method that mixes ages. The mixture isn’t very drastic, but it allows for children to be younger and older than other kids as they go through the program to live in different relation to students as they grow. Studies have shown that there are many benefits for children to have a mixture of younger and older children around them to develop relational skills later in life.
Beyond the educational structures for catechetics, we have many ways to segregate groups based on age (i.e. young adults and seniors). We do have a natural tendency to associate with people that share similar experiences, and this happens most often through age. This is natural and should be allowed to happen organically, but if systems only allow parishioners to attend activities with their own age, then their experience of the Church is lacking.
A parish that embraces a wide diversity of ages can thrive in the shared experiences of community. Each age group has plenty to learn and benefit from the others. These same benefits are more obvious in the domestic church, but the parish is its own community of families that will flourish from a fusion of parishioners from all groups.
One of the biggest struggles with religious education today is that a large portion of Catholic families depend almost entirely on the short time in class to get children educated about the faith and Jesus. No matter how impressive a religious education or youth ministry can be, it will always be a difficult battle if the family is not reinforcing what is taught.
Unfortunately, a large part of our families see the parish as the ultimate source of catechesis without extra supplementation at home. There are many reasons while this is likely happening, and Lindsay explored some in her post How Bad Catechesis Happened and How to Fix It (Review of Msgr. Charles Pope). One of the biggest takeaways is that many of today’s Catholic parents are simply not formed or feel equipped enough to take on the task of catechizing their own children. This is a serious issue that can be blamed on many factors, but either way, it’s a situation we cannot leave as is.
“Thus the little domestic Church, like the greater Church, needs to be constantly and intensely evangelized: hence its duty regarding permanent education in the faith…the family, like the Church, ought to be a place where the Gospel is transmitted and from which the Gospel radiates…the future of evangelization depends in great part on the Church of the home”
- John Paul II, Familiaris Consortio (The Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World) #51-52
The Church needs to approach religious formation as more than just a project for our school-aged children. We need to evangelize the entire family first, then we can take on the task of catechesis also for the entire family. Until the parents are in love with Jesus and striving to learn more, it will be a counterproductive task to focus only on the children. I personally know and have taught many young people that are the exception to this situation, but they are certainly not the norm.
In scripture, we see a few examples ( Acts 10, Acts 16, and 1 Corinthians 1) that show this was how it was done in the early church.
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.” So they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to everyone in his house. He took them in at that hour of the night and bathed their wounds; then he and all his family were baptized at once. He brought them up into his house and provided a meal and with his household rejoiced at having come to faith in God.
When we bring up integrating a wider range of groups into parish activities, there are naturally some concerns. While there could be some people that we don’t want mixing with the most vulnerable in our community, we have to do the best we can at caring for them while interacting in the community. There is one place where we do this very well – the Holy Mass. There are no special sections for age groups, and all are welcome.
Safety concerns are legitimate, but if the whole family is present, then there should be no greater risk than our regular Sunday mornings at the parish. As a community, the more time we spend together as groups, the more we get to know the whole family. This will also lead to better relationships with whole families, which makes it easier to keep an eye out for each other.
“I thank God that many families, which are far from considering themselves perfect, live in love, fulfil their calling and keep moving forward, even if they fall many times along the way. The Synod’s reflections show us that there is no stereotype of the ideal family, but rather a challenging mosaic made up of many different realities, with all their joys, hopes and problems.”
–Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 57
Generational gaps will naturally exist because of the differences in ages, but we have a great opportunity before us to strengthen our communities. Figuring out ways to minister to such a wide range will present a unique or even difficult tasks for some parishes, but it’s not an impossible task. Groups like Your Holy Family model ways to bring whole families together in an inclusive way.
In many communities, smalls steps could also produce great fruit. It could be as simple as working to schedule formation for all ages at once so that anyone can attend on the same night. Scheduling is often the first systematic barrier between different ages.
Most importantly, simply being aware of the benefits that could come from a greater integration of all ages and whole families will hopefully lead to more intentionality.
And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
– Acts 2:38-39