October 13 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print


Coaxing parents back into the Church

Fr John Bollan sees in childhood Sacraments an opportunity to reach mothers and fathers

After a few months’ hibernation, our diocesan synod came back to life in St Joseph’s last weekend. It was our turn to roll out the ‘Doing My Bit: Making it Happen’ initiative. This is a way of encouraging the folk in the pews, the ‘sleeping giant’ of the laity (snoozing especially during the sermons), to step forward to offer their services in the building up of the Church here in our parish.

At each of the three Masses, we had different synod delegates from the neighbouring parishes giving a short address at the end and encouraging the people to take home a copy of the ‘Doing My Bit’ booklet. The basic thrust of the message was ‘Father can’t do it all alone,’ which is true—even if, like me, Father is a complete control freak.

As I’ve said, we are blessed with a band of willing helpers at St Joseph’s—but we could do with more. The synod will have borne abundant fruit if it encouraged even a handful of other parishioners to lend their talents to the community. The rewards, apart from a wee gift at Christmas and Easter, are not great, but the graces are tremendous!

In fact, there was something of an extra treat for some of our parish staff and volunteers this week: the Bishop’s Ball in Glasgow. This is the first time the diocese has run such a fundraising venture, perhaps hoping to emulate the success of the now-established ‘do’ in the neighbouring archdiocese.

Each parish was invited to buy a table, with the proceeds (including an exclusive auction) going to a designated diocesan project.

While I was keen to support the initiative, I had no intention of selling the tickets. Rather, I wanted to use this as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the house staff and a random selection of other volunteers.

One of those out of the hat, Sandy, isn’t even a Catholic and yet freely gives hours of his time working about the grounds.

Matthew, another guest, looked resplendent in his tux and white collar, and let’s just say that, if the current 007 Daniel Craig does decide to hang up his Walther PPK, then I’m sure that Hepburn, Matthew Hepburn, will be the name on everybody’s lips.

Of course, such parochial largesse, even for a good cause, is not without its risks. What of those dedicated volunteers who didn’t get to hobnob with the bishop over canapés and fizz? Is it only ‘Father’s favourites’ who get a nice night out?

What would Pope Francis have to say about it all? (Well, he’d probably say, ‘What?! My zucchetto—skull-cap—went for £27,000 at the auction?!’)

Believe me, I have run through all these reactions in my head and I know that there are good folk who will feel genuinely indignant. In such situations, one is usually in a no-win situation—unless, like one lucky individual, you win a car.

My only response to those who aren’t happy about the ball is to point out that I’m as much Cinderella as anyone.

While the minibus transporting our tiara-wearing socialites was winding its way up the M8, I was trudging around the grounds with a leaf-blower, having been advised after the vigil Mass that the accumulation of fallen leaves on the steps and paths was a health and safety hazard.

In truth, this was not the most successful effort, being more a redistribution of leaves than a proper clear-up. But I was never trained to be a groundsman and common sense is not a gift with which I have been generously endowed.

I suspected my neighbours across the road were covertly filming my unintentionally hilarious efforts, hoping to receive £250 for their submission to You’ve Been Framed. It was so bad, in fact, that in the strange calm effected by the ear-defenders, I could almost hear the ringing of canned laughter. But this is what happens when Father tries to do it all himself.

This week I have a meeting with the parents and carers of the children in St Joseph’s primary who are due to receive Sacraments in 2018. It’s an important meeting, this one, if for no other reason than it’s sometimes the first time the parents will have entered the Church precincts since their child was Baptised. Indeed, there are always a few who realise in the course of the meeting that their child hasn’t actually yet been Baptised.

I once overheard a slight disagreement between a couple, conducted in something of a stage whisper, about their different recollections of their child’s Sacramental status.

“What was that thing we were at in St Peter’s?”

“That was (Child One’s) Christening! Remember we never had (Child Two) done ‘cos we were getting that new kitchen?”

A flicker of recognition played across dad’s face and I was approached shortly thereafter to have Child Two duly ‘done’ according to the rites of the Catholic Church.

It is, naturally, a little dispiriting to encounter such vagueness about something one would hope would be considered sacred and important. But, rather than get down about it, I try to work with what I’ve got.

Although we could have heated debates about where Sacraments ‘belong’ (for the record, they belong unequivocally in the parish, but schools can and should play a key role in supporting that process), they remain moments of encounter with Christ.

Even if a family is brought to that encounter by way of a school programme, it wouldn’t be the first time someone met Jesus ‘by accident’ (why, the Gospels are full of examples).

When faced with a room of not very familiar faces, I don’t think it’s my job to guilt-trip them into coming to Mass or establishing a bar for minimally-acceptable Church attendance ‘otherwise it ain’t happening.’

Either the parents will stick up two fingers, sometimes literally, at you, or else the journey of Sacramental accompaniment will have been rendered the religious equivalent of a sports day parents’ race: once the hoops have been jumped through, whatever sense of belonging there was quickly dissipates.

Although it might be considered a little too wishy-washy, my preference is quite simply to remind them what the Sacraments are for and ask them to consider how they can best support their child. If they have been away from Church, then surely this is a perfect opportunity to reconnect.

Every year, without fail, there are a couple of families who return to practice and who do so of their own volition. I consider that to be preferable to a quick burst of compliance which then evaporates.

Besides, some of the parents of the children lead lives that are so chaotic, so blighted by addiction or constrained by financial pressures, that making their children’s reception of the Sacraments contingent upon a species of religious ‘means-testing’ is, to my mind, mean.

Also this week we have 12 pupils from St Columba’s off on pilgrimage to Poland with the bishop, six of whom are from St Joseph’s. Recognising the happy disproportion of young people from this parish, I donated the proceeds of last week’s quiz night to help defray the costs: £400 may not be much, but it’s better than nothing.

The less said about the quiz itself, the better. Having been abandoned by the rest of Les Quizerables, there were only two of us trying to hold our own against the massed ranks of our bitter rivals, the Molly McGuires.

In the end, we came a poor fifth (out of eight teams). Perhaps it’s just as well that it was a quiet night, as I would not have wished our humiliation to be witnessed by a larger audience. Next month’s quiz is to have a fancy dress theme. I’m not sure what to go with: Doctor Who’s imminent change of gender has thrown me off a bit and there will probably be more Harry Potters than you could shake a wand at.

Perhaps a Pope Francis costume would help boost team morale? I could probably cobble together a costume from bits and pieces in the sacristy. Now if only I could find someone who’d be prepared to loan me a white zucchetto for a few hours. I’d take good care of it, I promise!

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