The Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle recognises that community and faith are mutually inclusive and is always looking at ways to strengthen this relationship further; connecting with the community, whatever their age or stage of faith.
In 2011, a pilot program was launched, which specifically aimed to provide support to families by connecting them to the life of their parish, their school community and new or existing networks of families to enable them to participate in the family, faith, social and educational activities of their local community.
Run by the Parish-Family Liaison Officer (Helene O'Neill), the project is currently centred on the Blackbutt Region which includes the schools and parish communities of Adamstown, Kotara, Cardiff (Blackbutt South), Lambton, New Lambton and Waratah (Blackbutt North).
The Project Officer aims to engage families into the parish community and liturgical life of the parish and assists families to participate in primary and high school events.
The project also aims to:
- Initiate new forms of family ministry as well as coordinate and strengthen existing family networks and events;
- Strengthen the sense of family and community;
- Provide opportunities for the formation of families e.g. talks, discussion groups, faith and spiritual formation;
- Advise and work collaboratively with the Parish Priest, Parish Staff, Pastoral Council, School Principals and the SRE Co-ordinator on ways of strengthening family ministry;
- Link families who connect with the parish i.e. through the Sacraments, to the life of the parish.
With an emphasis on going to where the people are, whether that be a BBQ, school sports event, Surfest or a fundraising morning tea, the Parish-Family Liaison Officer invites the community to connect with the church, find out more about opportunities and initiatives and share common goals, concerns or experiences.
This has already been extremely successful, with sport, liturgies and mini Vinnies the three main areas of engagement promoted by the Parish-Family Liaison Officer. Craft activities and school Masses also develop a strong sense of community outreach and engagement.
The list of activities that can be shared by schools and parishes is infinite. As Helene O'Neill explains, "it's about both sides welcoming their fellow member as we live to share faith, family and food."
As a community member, parent, teacher, student parishioner or priest, take a look at some of the ways you can, or may already, connect with parishes, schools and communities.
- When parents and parishioners attend school liturgies on special feasts or occasions eg Easter, Anzac Day and Mother's Day, this is a fantastic way of connecting school, community and church. The prayers are meaningful and on most occasions, the students act out the story or sing the hymns that convey meaning to them;
- Way of the Cross held at Kilaben Bay. This annual event is presented by Catholic schools in the diocese - the students present their interpretation of the station. The parish (where the event is held) provides the hospitality for all to share. Music, liturgical dancing and acting are features of the students' involvement;
- Sports carnivals - these events attract parents, extended families and parishioners. They provide occasions for support and encouragement for the participants and enable those not at school to relive their dreams or glory days from when 'they were at school';
- Mini Vinnies - this is a fantastic organisation for primary aged students to be involved in. Mini Vinnies run winter appeals and support other fundraising requests. It is important for the Mini Vinnies to be connected to St Vincent de Paul. Together, the groups share a true sense of outreach and compassion; The high schools also conduct Junior Vinnies, with a huge focus on social justice and the environment and also volunteer for CatholicCare's Food Van which provides food to those in need, and connects clients to support services available;
- Family Mass - from the readings to the plate collection through to the welcoming ministry, primary school children are involved. Many of the children sit together with their friends and learn to respect the beliefs of others;
- Children's Liturgy - enables the children to understand the gospel teachings at their level. Parents and parishioners welcome this initiative and are on a roster to work with the children.
- Craft groups - pass on the time-lasting skills of knitting, crocheting and sewing to primary school children. Whilst the age difference can be up to 70 years, both young and not-so-young benefit from spending time together.
It is envisaged that the outcome of this project would be the catechesis of families through ministering to children.