Tessa was racing to Eastbourne. She had promised the children a ride on the ferry. They were late. ‘Will we make it Mum?’ comes a four-year-old voice from the back seat. ‘Just pray the ferry doesn’t leave early,’ she replied. A small silence and then ‘What’s pray, Mum?’ Tessa felt a jolt. Oh, that’s a conversation I need to begin sometime, she thinks.
Tessa is not alone. Bringing a baby into the world carries many responsibilities – to keep safe, to nurture and to educate are prime roles for new parents. As Christians, we are called to share what we believe about God, the universe and our gift to the world.
Parents through their love, actions and education show the presence of God within the daily life of the family. Their teaching of this dimension of life to their children helps them to grow in faith and understanding.
At two focus-group meetings of parents with young children, parents said they needed support to share their beliefs with their children. They said they did not always know how to talk about God and they struggled with a four-year-old’s questions like ‘Is there food in heaven?’ ‘Ah yes – all your favourite foods’. ‘Oh, so dead people eat then?’ ‘Well…’
They asked particularly for resources that teach and promote discussions about values.
As well, the 2006 Synod asked for more faith support for parents with preschool children and ways of connecting them to their parish community.
Enter ‘Our Family’ resources
Children’s writer Joy Cowley and poet Fr James Lyons of the Cathedral parish, school children and parents have spent two years devising resources to stimulate family conversations about God, the universe, values and belonging.
The result is ‘Our Family’ – a five-year plan for a faith community – parish and school together – to contact families with preschool children and give them resources which begin those all-important conversations.
These resources recognise that most families have a parent who is not a Catholic.
‘Our Family’ in action
For the first five years a child receives a birthday card from the faith community (parish and school). This card affirms the care parents give to their children. Alongside the card is a resource for the family – a gift for the child.
• a growth chart – Growing in Love
• a CD of Andrew Chinn’s song ‘Rainbow’
• a pack of Values cards
• a prayer book
• a letter from other five-year-olds talking about the joys of turning five.
‘Our Family’ Values Cards create family discussion and strengthen family relationships.
Joy Cowley has written 52 values in simple language in a pack of cards. These cards help parents to choose which values on which to build their family. They promote discussion between parents and children about the values they consider to be important. Each card has a relevant scripture quote encouraging families to see where their values come from.
‘Our Family’ prayer book
This book has been illustrated by the children of Sacred Heart School, Thorndon. They have written some of the prayers, too. Fr James Lyons has written some grace-before-meals prayers and Joy Cowley has done children’s versions of three traditional prayers.
Growing in Love growth chart
This growth chart recognises that a child grows in love as well as in height. The child’s handprint records their growth. On the side of the chart are the words ‘Before you were born I knew you’ (Jer 1:5). This quote reminds everyone of God’s love which surrounds the family.
The CD by Andrew Chinn is much loved by toddlers because of its rhythm and words:
‘Side by side, together we grow, underneath God’s beautiful rainbow’.
Parishes and schools are encouraged to use these resources to strengthen their relationship to families with young children. Along with sending these resources to the families, it is suggested they hold a parents’ evening to discuss how to address those awkward questions and share their beliefs with their children. A special Sunday Mass to celebrate three or four-year-olds is another suggestion.
The resources have been produced by Archdiocesan Pastoral Services. Brochures are available from Sue Devereux, 04 496 1744 or email@example.com