My family was lucky enough to attend the Saturday “Festival of Families” in Philadelphia during the Pope’s visit to the US. There were some incredible moments. (You catch that story here, thanks to George from Catholic Review.) But I don’t want to give you photos of my adorable children and beautiful wife. (I’m happy to do that in person, just ask.) I’d like to ask the question:
This was a Festival for Families: how well was our family really welcomed? What did we learn about how we should welcome families in our parishes?
Welcoming families is a big deal. (If you listened to Pope Francis, it may well be the biggest deal of all.) So these questions deserve some serious reflection. For context, you should know that my wife and I have four small children, ages 7, 6, 3, and 11 months.
First, the positives…
Getting In on the Action
My kids are small. This means that when something is happening on a stage far away, they can’t see or hear it. All of us like to be in on the action, but this especially true for children. It’s not enough for them to simply be there. They need to see and hear the action. In Philadelphia there were jumbo-trons everywhere. This meant that while we walked, stood in line, and even when we arrived in the plaza where the Mass would be held, my kids could still participate because they could see and hear. It made all the difference. With this in mind:
- If a family needs to leave the sanctuary during Mass, can they still see and hear what is going on from outside?
- How good is the sound quality in the back of the church, where families often sit in case they need to leave suddenly?
- Do we invite our families to sit in places where they’re sure to have unobstructed views?
Now, the negatives …
Security was tight. On the Parkway where the Pope was going to arrive, there were all kinds of barricades to keep you in and off the road. Unfortunately, they forgot to make a bathroom available for families inside the barricades. We were told that for we couldn’t access the port-o-pottys for up to two hours because the Pope might be coming through. Needless to say, my six-year old with her legs crossed was not going to wait that long. The organizers clearly had not thought too hard about the needs of the families in this case. With in this in mind:
- Do we anticipate and provide for the basic needs of families with children? (clean bathrooms, changing tables, etc.)
- When families have unexpected “emergencies” or difficulties, are we patient and flexible, or do we make them feel they’re an unwelcome distruption?
Welcoming families means so much more than just deciding to have a family-centered event. It’s a question of keeping them in mind as we plan the entire experience. If we think about families as we plan in our parishes, they will think about us as they plan their lives.
What do you think? What does your parish do to truly welcome families?