The Project Office is delighted to share with you an account of the development of the Catholic Grandparents Association (CGA) in Arundel and Brighton Diocese by MFL Specialist Adviser Katherine Bergin. The Photographs were taken at the 2012 Aylesford Grandparents Pilgrimage.
“I attended the Marriage and Family Life Conference in Durham in 2010 and met Catherine Wiley and Maire Printer. They gave the most inspirational introduction to their work and I was immediately able to see the possibilities of working with Grandparents in my diocese. My initial approach was to hold a one day meeting entitled ,“Calling all Grandparents” and invited all those who were interested to come and hear Catherine’s message. We also advertised the fact that we would be holding some workshops on practical ways you might pass on the faith to your grandchildren. The morning session was taken up by Catherine’s inspiring story and her vision for the future of the CGA. In the afternoon we held a carousel of workshops; passing on the faith, unpacking the grandparents prayer and exploring it’s meaning, operating an actual grandparent’s session and, how to establish a group in your parish. The feedback was that the sessions were inspirational and really gave parishioners a purpose and a sense of the benefit that could be gained from developing this as a parish ministry. The most powerful session was probably the one which we ran as a group meeting, all the participants could see how much strength they gained from their peers and how powerful praying together could be. Everyone came out restored, moved and supported.
Following on from this one lady who had attended the day approached me and asked for help in establishing a group. She arranged with her parish priest to have a special Mass for grandparents followed by coffee. This was well attended, about 25 grandparents who were all initially nervous and anxious, particularly those who were burdened by the fact that their own children had lapsed or that their grandchildren weren’t baptised. Very quickly the atmosphere softened, tears were shed words of comfort spoken and a sense of group established. When I asked at the end of the session if they would like to meet regularly the answer was a resounding “yes”.
I followed up with other individuals around the diocese who had been to the initial day, and asked if they would like me to launch a similar group and many have responded. I now have a standard pattern which I deliver; the parish invites grandparents to a session, sometimes after morning mass, sometimes an evening, some link it with a parish meal, and I then present Catherine’s story followed by introductions and sharing session. I then explain how a regular group might follow a pattern of sharing and praying together and the benefits that could be gained from doing that. We ensure that everyone feels welcome and that we conclude with the Pope’s prayer for grandparents. Some groups have asked for more substance to their meetings and so I am developing a series of “starters” which might promote discussion – an example might be (given that we as a diocese are exploring the effect of Vatican 2) What do you remember about the council, how different will your grandchildren’s early experience of church be to yours, does that matter?
I am very fortunate to have a commission member whose main focus is working with grandparents and she is developing a sense of network between the various groups, visiting them, arranging group to group meetings and producing a quarterly magazine designed to keep people in touch and inspired.
Alongside the development of the groups I worked with 3 other dioceses to develop a joint pilgrimage to Aylesford based on the model from Walsingham. These have been very successful and work well with groups both as somewhere to take the group and their grandchildren but also somewhere where individuals can be inspired to go back and start a group.
A new venture this year was to define an “Arundel and Brighton Grandparent’s Week”. This was an initiative that crossed both schools and parish. I met with some resistance as schools viewed it as another task but gentle persistence and a long lead time – I notified them in May and the event was October – coupled with direct approaches to people I knew working in schools who didn’t feel they could say no, meant that several schools did respond and put on events. Their responses have been overwhelming; each and every one of them was delighted with the effect the week had on their school and community. They all asked for it to become an annual event and schools who did not take part have been in touch to ask if they could be involved next time. Only one parish had a particular event but many made reference in their newsletters or in the prayers of intercession.
Upon reflection I do feel the way to get something like this going is to make individual contact with people, everyone I speak to recognises the value of getting this group together for support and encouragement. I think it is important to stress how little effort is involved in running a group as the volunteer is usually one who is already very involved in parish life. The groups do take on a life of their own and develop in ways that suit them. My first group has become an active part of parish life, providing volunteers for fetes and church activities and creating events that develop parish life – a Queen’s Jubilee (grandparents) party was an example! There is a link to the CGA in that we all know we come under that global banner but I think each area will shape their groups slightly differently depending on the people that come forward to participate. It will be helpful to have some regular communication from the CGA as the parent body, to share wonderful stories and then we in turn can hold fundraising activities to support them.”
Katherine Bergin, November 2012