Brian Clarke, a member of the First Holy Communion Visitation Group in Newbridge Parish tells us about how the group came about and what they do.

This interview was broadcast on God Send Sunday” (KFM) on 27th April 2008.

A Visitation Programme in Newbridge Parish

At this early stage the success of the ministry cannot be measured, but parishioners reaching out and sharing their faith with others is a sign of new life and hope in our Parish.

In Newbridge Parish every year almost three hundred children receive First Communion. The children attend seven primary schools, and are from very different backgrounds. Catholic children who attend non – Catholic schools also receive First Communion. Some families are very committed. Others, for a variety of reasons, stay on the margins, fulfil the minimum requirements, and see First Communion as a big day of family celebrations. For a few, the year’s preparation for their child’s First Communion can lead to a deepening of their own faith and a return to more frequent church attendance.

In our Parish the celebration of First Communion takes place over two weekends in May at designated Masses in each of the three churches. Instead of receiving First Communion in class groups, parents choose to celebrate this special event with family members and friends at a Mass of their choice. This way forward, while giving parents the freedom of choice, challenges them to take greater ownership and responsibility for the faith development of their children.

Parish supporting the home

The Do This in Memory Programme which has been used in our Parish since it was first introduced in our Diocese, has enabled many families and Parish members to be more involved in preparing children for First Communion. While acknowledging that religious education and the faith development of children begins in the home, we are aware that many families need help and support to fulfil their Christian responsibilities.

The size of the Parish and the anonymity of many of its members led some of us to reflect on ways we might reach out and give more support to First Communion families. Was there something more that we, as a Parish, could do to connect with and support First Communion Families? Some families were just names on a page. The idea of lay people visiting started to become a reality.

Pilot programme

In May 2007 a meeting was set up and a small group, consisting of two Parish Team members and four lay people, met to discuss various possibilities of reaching out to families. A decision was made to pilot a visitation programme in the parish. It was envisaged that lay people, priests and religious would be part of this group.

To begin with, the families of two classes would be visited, and a training programme would be in place for September. The next task was to find people who would be interested in this new ministry. People who were already involved in parish ministries were approached Eucharistic ministers, funeral ministers, pastoral council, and liturgy groups.

Training of Home Visitation teams

Sixteen lay people accepted to take part in the four week training programme. Julie Kavanagh a member of the Diocesan Faith Development Services team facilitated the first session and gave guidelines for the other sessions.

As with any new venture, some members were apprehensive about the new ministry. A big concern of theirs was whether or not they would be accepted by other parishioners. The training session involved sharing hopes and fears, exploring benefits to families and the visitation team, listening skills, operating principles, prayer and group support.

Our final session was a practical one. The team paired off and each pair received a folder with the names of five families, items of information about the First Communion programme, and a few small gifts for the children Prayer Space e.g. a rosary beads, holy water, an icon of the Holy Family and a prayer which would be said before each visit.

The beginning

Making people aware of this new ministry was the next task. A letter from the Parish Priest was sent to the families advising them of the forthcoming visit. A notice was put in the Sunday newsletter, and the teachers and children of the classes concerned were informed.

During the month of October lay people, priests and religious visited forty five First Communion families. At the end of the month a brief evaluation took place. The teams felt accepted and welcomed, and were happy to continue with the ministry. During the month of November two more classes were visited.

Having completed visiting all the first Communion families in one school a more detailed evaluation took place. Julie Kavanagh again facilitated this session. All involved had very positive experiences, and are now convinced that this new ministry, even though challenging and time consuming, is rewarding for both the families and the team. Because of such a positive experience fifteen more people are now training to be members of the visitation team, thus enabling many more families to be visited.

At this early stage the success of the ministry cannot be measured, but parishioners reaching out and sharing their faith with others is a sign of new life and hope in our Parish.

This is what we are about.
We plant seeds that will one day grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.
We are workers not master builders, ministers, not messiahs.
We are prophets of a future not our own.
Oscar Romero

Radio

This interview was broadcast on God Send Sunday” (KFM) on 27th April 2008.
KFM (Kildare) – 97.6 & 97.3FM

The programme can be contacted at:

KFM Broadcast Centre, Newhall, Naas, Co. Kildare
Phone: 045 898999 E Mail: Sunday@KFMRadio