“In our busy world many of us rush to Mass each Sunday and then home again, without stopping to talk to the person next to us. We are distracted by the many demands on our time… “ Sounds familiar? This is the experience of Christine and Vincent Joyce from Whitefield, Manchester. However they also believe that “there is a way of changing this, of building a sense of community in the parish” Chris and Vince are referring to the Family Group Movement, through which a growing number of people in England and Wales are building parish community and fellowship.
Family Groups are drawn from the parish community. Like a natural family, groups comprise people of all ages and circumstances: young, mature, married, single, separated, widowed and divorced – people who simply commit to meet up together once a month, to get to know each other better. Although Groups grow out of a parish community and are linked by a common faith, many group members bring along partners and friends who may not be so involved in church. These people are integral to the success of a group. Family Groups have few rules beyond a commitment to know, support and love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. They need enthusiastic leaders and the support of the parish priest but activities are kept at minimum cost.
Family Groups offer a great deal to parishes. “We firmly believe that the friendship, support, the wonderful feeling of togetherness and fellowship that we have experienced in Family Groups have been absolutely instrumental in keeping our faith on track,” report Tracey and Stephen Hoy, Family Group Coordinators in St Helen’s Parish, Caerphilly. “Family Groups enable parishioners to really get to know each other and develop community as they did in the early church, so that they can support each other in their joys and sorrows as a family in Christ’s love.”
In September 2014 the Diocese of Arundel and Brighton was awarded funding through the Bishops’ Celebrating Family Fund to pilot Family Groups in the diocese and research their impact on parish life. Kat Pond was appointed to the role of Parish Family Groups Project Officer and has already visited and introduced the concept to several parishes.
The Archdiocese of Cardiff has Family Groups in two of its parishes (St Helen’s Parish, Caerphilly & St Philip Evans Parish, Cardiff ) and these groups form an integral part of parish life. Celebrating Family funding is enabling the Family Life Commission to build on this foundation in 2015-16. Family Life Worker, Joanne White, co-hosted an awareness raising day for Family Groups in Caerphilly on Saturday 21st March. Reflecting later, Joanne reported: “There was a definite sense of friendship borne out of a common purpose and experience which didn’t detract from the uniqueness of each group or its parish. One couple left the gathering hoping to speak to their parish priest about developing Family Groups. I will offer all the support I can to them and to any other parish in the Archdiocese wishing to explore the concept further.’
Family Groups were introduced to England and Wales in 2007 when the MFL Project Office invited Fr Peter McGrath, the Australian founder of the Passionist Family Group Movement, to launch three Family Group parish pilots. Since then, with the bishops’ continued support, 10 parishes in 8 dioceses have successfully established Family Groups. The movement in England and Wales is now becoming self-sustaining. In March 2015, Family Group leaders from St Mary’s Parish, Ipswich and Our Lady of Victories Parish, Kensington supported the launch of Family Groups in St Joseph’s Parish, Bromley.
A national Steering Group was convened in October 2014, made up of leaders from eight Family Group parishes, regional diocesan family ministry coordinators and a chaplain, Fr Pat Munroe, all of whom are passionate about building a deeper sense of community and fellowship in the parish. The Steering Group is committed to supporting and accompanying other parishes interested in developing Family Groups and will be represented at the Proclaim ’15 – National Evangelisation Initiative on 11th July 2015.
For more information about the Family Groups Research Project in Arundel and Brighton please contact Kat Pond, Parish Family Groups Project Officer Tel: 01293 651155, email: Kat.Pond@dabnet.org.
For more information on Family Groups in the Archdiocese of Cardiff please contact Joanne White, Family Life Worker Tel: 02920 365964 email: email@example.com.