FAMILY GROUP MOVEMENT
(England & Wales)
The St Teresa’s Focus Team were visited by Maureen O’Brien, the Coordinator for Marriage and Family Life from LACE, in January 2016, who introduced the idea of Family Groups and left us to consider whether Family Groups was something that would be part of our parish vision for the future.
We decided that the idea of people getting together, socially, to get to know each other better was certainly something the parish would be interested in. The idea also fitted with our vision of looking outwards from the church, the thought that it is much easier to invite someone along to a BBQ or an afternoon walk than to a Sunday Mass - “clever evangelism” we christened it.
The next stage was to have more information and a plan of action of how to get Family Groups off the ground at St Teresa’s. Chris and Vince Joyce, who are the Co-Chairs of the Steering Group for Family Groups in England & Wales and who live locally, gave up their valuable time to come and spend an evening with the Focus Team in May 2016. This evening gave us a real insight into what Family Groups were all about and how successful they had been in the UK, since the seeds were first sown by Fr Peter McGrath, the Australian founder of the Passionist Family Group Movement, in 2007. The introductory video shown on the night was very inspiring, lighting a spark that is still burning bright.
A parish co-ordinator was appointed to work closely with Chris and Vince, who again gave up their time to plan and provide information and literature for our big parish launch in September. Prior to this launch, a cheese and wine was organised in June, with personal invitations given to those whom the Focus Team thought would make good leaders. This was a very successful evening, with three leaders and three deputies recruited.
The weekend of the parish launch in September had Chris and Vince speaking at both the Saturday evening and Sunday morning Masses, which again included the inspiring video. Interested parishioners were asked to complete their contact details, before leaving church, as the plan was to get individual Family Groups organised and off the ground as quickly as possible. The Sunday, straight after Mass, was dedicated to forming three Family Groups with 20 people in each, aiming to get a good mix of ages and circumstances for all the groups. The groups were formed quickly and we all met to formalise the Family Groups and to introduce the leaders on the Sunday afternoon, with tea and cakes of course (wouldn’t be Family Groups otherwise!). The members all got to chat with one another (some for the first time) and choose a name for their group. We left after a couple of hours, with three happy groups named The Amigos, Shalom and Genesis.
As the Family Group website says, “The concept of Family Groups is simple. Groups meet every four to six weeks for a variety of activities decided by their members. These include quizzes, film nights, games, parties and anniversary celebrations, walks, music, themed events, fundraising, house Masses and lots of shared meals. The groups can become a valuable source of parish outreach as well as offering invaluable support and fellowship to their own members. The groups need the commitment and encouragement of their parish priest to thrive but are run by volunteer group leaders and parish coordinators.” This all happened for us and Family Groups at St Teresa’s have gone from strength to strength.
Our Family Group list of events so far includes walks, quizzes, house parties, table tennis, games nights, film nights, theatre nights, Christmas craft afternoon, Mass, restaurant visits, beetle drive, a casino night and a talent night. The Family Groups meet about once a month, with big inter-group meetings in the summer and in the winter for some sort of challenge - rivalry and bragging rights run very high! These have included a rounders match, a quiz, and an indoor “It’s a Knockout” evening. My personal favourites are the quiz night with Fr Phillip our parish priest acting as the Chaser (and getting roundly beaten), and the rounders match in July, with Fr Michael Moss turning out as umpire in what was to be one of his last communal outings before he passed away.
I hope this summary of the Family Group experience at St Teresa’s, Upholland, Lancashire will inspire other parishes to consider Family Groups as a way of bringing love, friendship and outreach. I have met and chatted to people I have seen for years at church, but never really engaged with. I have got to know the other (good) side of people that I never knew - you never truly know someone till you see their reaction to having a water-filled balloon explode on them! I have got to know our priests on a much deeper and meaningful level as all our priests being committed members of individual Family Groups and keen supporters right from the start and this is such an important aspect of our success. I have taken great joy from seeing people of different ages laughing, eating and playing together, something that just wouldn’t happen without Family Groups. All this against the backdrop of a shared faith and a shared understanding of the journey we are all on. As stated earlier, Family Groups are a great way of “clever evangelism”. There are a number of people who have found their way back to regular Mass attendance via a Family Group event. We have members who are from the local Anglican church, members who are non-religious, and some who would never have anything to do with the Catholic church but for Family Groups. My hope is that all parishes can have the satisfaction of hearing the words, “I don’t know what it is that you lot have, but I know I want some of it”.
Family Groups at St Teresa’s have been a great success. I don’t know for sure, but I imagine there are lonely people that enjoy meeting up once a month, more than we can ever know. I imagine that the meeting of young and old Catholics and non-Catholics, who are not family, to share an activity and food (there is always food, cakes and tea at the very least) is good for all, better perhaps than we can ever know. As the Family Groups’ patron Bishop Peter Doyle has said “The Family Group Movement seeks to create a true sense of community in fulfilment of Jesus Christ’s command for love, friendship, and companionship in the lives of his disciples, and as experienced by the early Christian communities.”
If you would like to start Family Groups in your parish or you want further information please contact Maureen O’Brien 0151 522 1044 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org