A view from the parish car park

It was time for breaking open the word with the little children during Sunday Mass. Young minds eagerly listened to the account of Jesus calling the twelve apostles and sending them, two by two, to preach the Good News. The six-year-olds were spellbound. After the reading they shared how they could each be an apostle for Jesus throughout the following week. Their teacher, Miss Emma, told the group about a particular way they could be apostles that very day. She distributed a flyer advertising a “Dad’s Retreat”. She encouraged the children to be apostles to their fathers by placing the flyer in their hands. As an extra incentive, Miss Emma offered a beautiful statue of Jesus as a prize for the first child who brought back the invitation signed and dated by his or her father.

While the children were engaged in their final activity, little Keira burst into the room with a signed flyer in hand. She happily announced, “I won! I won! I am the first apostle! My dad signed the paper!”

Miss Emma was shocked that Keira had left the session without her knowledge. She was also stunned that Keira interrupted the community Mass to find her father. And she felt threatened by the mutiny in the room as other students called out, “Not fair! Not fair!” Miss Emma quieted the class and then asked Keira how she managed to be the first apostle. “Did you go into church and interrupt Mass?” “Oh, no!” replied Keira. “It’s my dad’s turn to drive to church, so he’s in the car park waiting for me”.

Dad was in the car park rather than at Mass. Such a scene is not uncommon. A sizable number of parents spend an hour in their cars while their children are attending Mass or a faith-formation session. One catechetical leader describes them as the “taxi community”.

This scenario raises a critical question among pastors, school leadership teams, and teachers: How do we draw parents into the parish and out of whatever “car park” keeps them disengaged and non-participative?

What can be done to encourage, support, and affirm parents so that they feel invited and inspired to engage in their own faith development as well as that of their children? The goal of those involved in leadership within our parishes and schools is to lead parents from the “car park” of non-involvement to participation on the faith formation of their children and ultimately to a personal encounter with Jesus.