A bridge for relationship and growth
COLLEEN R. VERMEULEN
As catechetical leaders, we experience firsthand the reality that “parents are the principal and first educators of their children” (CCC 1653, Familiaris Consortio 53), especially in their spiritual lives, where parents carry out an irreplaceable ministry of evangelization. Knowing this, I long to have a closer connection to the parents of the children who attend catechesis in my parish. I know that the more I communicate what their children are learning and why, the more likely they are to be encouraged as disciples of Jesus and equipped to keep discussing the faith at home. Yet how do I communicate in a way that’s both loving and effective? Here are four tips.
Foster open, two-way communication
In a world where relationships are hard to form and life seems overwhelmingly busy to many, taking the time to communicate, to share our message and listen to parents, shows that we care. We want to offer ourselves as supportive advocates, partners, and friends to parents in a culture where they might worry about failing as parents. I admit, sometimes this can feel like a burden. I can say to myself, “I’m a catechist — I want to teach children, not develop relationships with their parents!” But when I feel this way, I remind myself that parents are worth the effort; they will have a greater impact on their child than I ever will, and by entering into their joys and struggles with Jesus’ healing power, I’m reaching their child.
Think multiple channels of communication
Spoiler-alert: there’s no single best method of communication for reaching parents. It’s not about deciding to use email versus text messages or bulletins versus social media. Instead, it’s about using multiple channels while recognizing that no means of communication will result in every parent engaging with the content we send. Whatever combination you choose, be consistent so parents begin to expect your message and receive it like a desired magazine subscription rather than an interruption. If you choose to use email, use an email service (such as free MailChimp memberships) so you can learn what works based on who’s opening your message, clicking links, and/or unsubscribing.
Aim for the heart of the matter
Because we’re so passionate about catechesis, it’s easy to overwhelm parents with too much information in a desire to share with them every detail of our (amazing!) lesson plan. Remember, our hope is that by sharing with parents about what’s going on in class, parents will initiate a discussion with their children and experience ongoing conversion themselves. To do this, stick to a single focus — the good news and an open-ended question, for instance. Or share a personal story rather than summarizing doctrine. Trust that the Holy Spirit will “take it from there” through your concise content and work in the lives of both parents and children. Something that’s compelling and short enough to read is better than the greatest essay that gets deleted.
Always be invitational
As pressures mount — to collect copies of baptismal certificates or help children prepare for a diocesan test — I’m tempted to become more demanding with parents, nagging, chiding, or guilting them to comply with expected standards. When this happens, it’s time for me to pray for the ability to be intentionally invitational in my tone. Parents choose to have their children participate in catechesis; they could just as easily stay home or go to another church. Prayer helps me remember that I’m an honored partner with parents in catechesis, not their “boss”, and all my communications with them should reflect this.
As Pope Francis encourages us: “Communication has the power to build bridges, to enable
encounter and inclusion, and thus to enrich. … How beautiful it is when people select their words and actions with care” (Message of Pope Francis for the 50th World Communications Day). Communicating with parents is an opportunity to bring forth greater fruit, through an adult relationship that positively impacts the lives of children we serve.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second of a three-part series on improving communications in our catechetical settings. Find part 2 and 3 at the links below:
Colleen R. Vermeulen, Mdiv, MNA, is an instructor and director of mission with the Catholic Biblical School of Michigan. She provides ministry and leadership training and consultation for dioceses and parishes. Visit PracticalEvangelization.wordpress.com.
This article was originally published in Catechist magazine, October 2018
PHOTO: Steve Debenport, istock