We find ourselves once again in the search for a home parish so I have a serious question for folks. What is it that you look for in a parish? I thought I knew what was best for us and now we are finding we made a huge mistake. Or maybe it's much simpler and yet complicated than that. Who knows. I will admit that I never felt 100% comfortable at the parish we've been attending and now due to some very specific issues, I will not feel comfortable going back there at all until or unless we get an apology ourselves. While I recognize that will likely not ever happen, it is what is needed and I have no problem stating that. Because people are always people no matter what their calling in life might be.
I do know the most important thing to look for is a lack of liturgical abuse within the parish. Unfortunately, living in the Rochester Diocese makes that one a bit of a challenge at times. I'm hoping with our new Bishop, that will change in the coming months but you never know because people are people.
I've learned that it is also important to make sure you are able in some way to truly participate in the parish on a regular basis. This has always been an important aspect of my life and one that was completely lacking in the parish we were attending because of distance. I want our kids to think of their parish as an extension of their family, not just somewhere we go on Sundays.
What is not important to me is a religious ed program. Sorry, I've attended them in too many places and taught the religious ed classes at many different parishes and the one thing I learned is that they are pretty much a huge waste of time and resources. Religious education belongs in the home. Lacking that, forcing kids to attend religious ed classes for years is not going to help them stay in the church or keep their faith.
This one may sound strange given the above idea but I do really want a parish with a thriving youth group. And not one run by anyone who is a parent to a teenager in the group. That just never works out well. I will openly state that is was my youth group in 7th and 8th grade that I credit with truly inspiring me faith wise and keeping my butt in the pew, so to speak. Yes, part of it was the awesome trips we were able to take (Dachau, Rome, Assisi), part of it was that the parish was always making youth retreats available, part of it was that these young men and women truly challenged us. So Craig, Christi, Lisa, and Rob, thank you for all you did for us. You gave of yourselves and gave me something I can honestly say I would have gotten no where else. The following year we moved to a smaller base and the youth group was an ecumenical effort run by a bunch of Protestants. Let's just say this did not work out well and is why I am against such ideas. It never matters how well you try such things, there will always be at least one adult who's main goal is to convert as many wayward souls to their own faith as possible. When the Catholics in the group refused to just sit quietly and take that, it did not end well. So I guess in the end this experience did give me the realization that it was important to be able to truly defend and explain my own faith. Apologetics 101, at the mercy of your youth minister is not a great thing, however. The next year we moved back stateside and the youth group there was run by a Mom. I'm sure she meant well but it sucked. She wasn't comfortable tackling the hard topics or doing anything fun so it was just like going to religious ed and being lectured to again. (Yes, I believe a youth group and religious ed classes should be two entirely separate things and serve two very different purposes.) I didn't bother to stick that one out. So, yes, I want a challenging youth group to be available to the kids but it has to be done right or it can do more harm than good.
The other thing that is important to me is that children are truly welcomed in the parish. And I don't mean in an idealistic sense but in a real one. Welcoming children means welcoming their parents, their occasional noise, their mess maybe. Means understanding that sometimes a child will throw a fit in church, that sometimes a parent will be at the end of their rope and unable to cope with said child and maybe not jump up and drag them out of Mass immediately. It means welcoming the babbling, the nursing mothers (yes, even those who nurse right in the pew without covering their child with a huge blanket), the toddler who just saw that statue of Mary and wants to say hi. It means never shooting a parent a dirty look because their child was loud. Never. I realize this is an issue I am sensitive to. I remember the looks my parents got, the rude comments from kids my age when my younger brother was less than perfect in church. I remember when they struggled with it because he was not the perfect ideal angelic child. I viewed it much differently than I do now after having my own crazy crew to drag to church. I realize for every time someone said something to me, my parents likely got 2 or 3 comments. I look back on it and that just breaks my heart. At least 25% of the time, I have to take the kids to Mass alone on Sundays so this is one point that is oh so very important to me when choosing a parish.
You see, the one place I have always felt at home, felt peace was in church. No matter where we lived. From that parish in Joplin where the welcoming coordinator made a point of praising me for being a stay-at-home mom (sadly that church was destroyed in the tornado that hit Joplin a few years ago), the parish in Springfield where the kids found their first real play group and Alan and I taught high school religion, the parishes in Florida where we joined the MOMS group and helped with VBS, where Bryan first started serving, where a wonderful priest would remind my boys during those long months that I was alone that it was oh so very important that they were well behaved for me, where I could count on a friend to help with boys when I needed that extra set of hands, the parish in Caledonia where at one point the priest brought in a rocking chair so mothers with babies had a place to sit in church and be comfortable, where the kids were in the Christmas plays, where the older 2 were confirmed, 3 kids received their First Communion, and 3 were baptized. And all of the parishes we attended growing up. Yes, I received each sacrament in a different parish and was married in a different one was well. So we've been around quite a bit and this is the first time I've been in a parish where I truly have been a made to feel unwelcome and that is not a good feeling. To be honest, at a time in my life when I truly need to feel comfort and solace the minute I walk into church, to find it so lacking has been troubling me and has left me doubting my faith as never before. I no longer feel at home in church so I know I need to change something. The truth is that I can look back at those major moments in my parenting struggle and honestly say that at many times along the way, it was a priest who either helped to encourage me or left me feeling like I was a failure. I will always hold a soft spot in my heart for the priest in Florida who was acting as our tour guide on a field trip. Upon seeing that I was nursing my little one when it was time to move, he picked up my bag, took Bryan and Sean by the hand and made sure all I had to do was take care of the baby and could still participate. He had no way of knowing that after being unable to nurse the first two, I wan entirely self conscious and worried about being able to successfully nurse child number 3 and his actions left me feeling completely at ease when I truly needed it. I can remember a priest in Chili who made a point upon seeing us in a row with 6 young children to come over and tell me to please not worry if the kids made noise in church. To not feel as if I had to leave because kids were always welcome in his parish and that was just what they did. And, yes, I remember the dirty looks that cut through you like a knife and leave you feeling like a total failure as a parent because the priest feels your child is distracting him when you are struggling to do everything you can.
Anyway, I'm not sure that I expect to get a response from this. Just putting it all out there. Maybe a reminder to all of us that everyone is carrying a heavy load and struggling and that a kind of word or hand or an understanding comment go much further than criticism. And I still have no clue what we are going to do because I think right now Alan and I are looking for two different things in a parish and I'm not quite sure how to reconcile the two.