“The family is a microcosm of the entire Church, a most sacred place where relationships with one another are cultivated in the love of Jesus Christ.” – Archbishop Demetrios, Geron of America
More and more in our Archdiocese, we are seeing the development of family ministry as parishes begin to host family nights, parent retreats, mom mornings and a variety of other activities that fall under this umbrella. Ministry to family, however, is so much more than just hosting programs and retreats. It connects the Church with the home. It focuses on equipping the faithful to apply the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Faith in every dimension of their lives. It can benefit every member of our parish family!
But who is part of this family? In the traditional sense, family is composed of the parents and children in a household all brought together by divine grace—the “domestic church.” Additionally, it must be understood that the Church—the body of Christ—constitutes a broader dimension of family through the very real spiritual relationship established through the baptism and chrismation that unites all of its members. We are all one family in Christ!
When we see our parish as a family, we extend family ministry beyond the demographic of parents and children and look at the entire life cycle. Recently, a parish was hosting a family night for parents and children. On the day of the event, a woman in her eighties who had no children or grandchildren asked if she could come—the parish of course welcomed her. Instead of sitting home alone, she joined the family night. She watched the children playing, helped with crafts, listened to the adults program and broke bread with her fellow parishioners. She left with feelings of joy and a sense that she belonged to the church family. Not only did she benefit from attending, but the children and their parents also benefited from interacting with her throughout the evening. This is what family ministry does-—it brings all the children of God together.
On a practical level, how do we develop this type of family ministry? How do we attempt to connect Church and home? As a parish, consider the following core values when developing family ministry:
Engaging in an active, authentic relationship with Christ manifested through personal prayer, community worship and sacramental life
Through what lens do we view the world? Are our daily decisions dictated primarily by political perspectives, scientific insights or cultural observations? As valuable as those worldly disciplines may be, the goal of the Christian life is to develop and cultivate a relationship with Jesus Christ. The liturgical and sacramental services inform us and shape us, revealing the pathway to salvation. Personal prayer allows for an intimate union with God, sharing our daily joys and struggles with our beloved Creator. As a parish family we encourage our members to engage in an active, authentic relationship with Christ. As we minister to families we can ask ourselves the following:
- How do we encourage parish family members to develop a rule of prayer that guides their daily connection with God?
- How do we inspire parish family members to become active participants in the worship cycle of our Church?
- How do we impress parish family members to pray for one another in their homes and throughout the day?
- How do we motivate parish family members to fully participate in all the sacraments the Church has to offer?
Providing balance and structure in our innovative and creative endeavors through the Holy Tradition of our faith
The social norms of society often change over time, sometimes from permissive to restrictive and back again. Families may struggle with how to live an authentic Orthodox Christian life, especially when the standards and ethos of society shift or conflict with the Orthodox Faith. Fortunately, the teachings, practices and values of our Church have remained balanced and consistent for 2,000 years, allowing families to rely on a firm foundation while adapting to the needs of the family at any given time.
- How do we teach our parish family members about the role of Holy Tradition in their daily lives?
- How do we guide our parish family members toward developing a relationship with a spiritual father—preferably their parish priest—to help them maintain an Orthodox perspective while navigating through societal shifts? How do we educate them as to what this relationship should be?
- How do we help our parish family members integrate the rhythm of the Church year into their daily lives to promote balance and structure?
- How do we as a parish use innovation and creativity to aid in our parish family’s spiritual journey?
Giving of ourselves sacrificially through genuine mutuality
Jesus is the ultimate model of self-sacrifice, inviting us to a deep and intimate relationship of love both in this life and the world to come. In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul offers the image of the body of Christ, emphasizing that every part of the body has innate value and works together for the greater good. The family is the ideal setting for modeling mutuality and support for one another, joyfully surrendering our own ego while expressing a selfless love for each member.
- As family ministry leaders, read 1 Corinthians 12 and 13 together. Which aspects of the body of Christ or the essence of love stand out for you? How can these aspects assist us in our ministry to families?
- Can you recall recent examples of self-denial and sacrifice that parish family members have shown to one another?
- Which examples of Jesus’s ministry and interactions with others help you to better comprehend the virtue of love?
- What are practical ways of expressing sacrificial love and mutuality to our neighbors, our community, our parish, our school, our place of work?
Assuring others of our mutual respect, dependability, collaboration, faith and shared vulnerability
The Greek word for faith implies not only faith but also trust. To have faith in Jesus is not only to believe in Him but also to put one’s total trust in Him. In our relationships with others we might express the difference between believing a person (what he/she says is reliable and true) and believing in a person (entrusting yourself to that person). Can you see the difference? On a personal level, consider the following:
- Who are the people in your life that you trust? What did they do to earn that trust from you?
- When did another person betray your trust? What lessons were learned and applied in the future?
- Do you consider yourself to be a dependable person, with a reputation of being trusted by others?
- How and when should you be vulnerable with others? What are the dynamics necessary to share your thoughts, feelings and history in a safe setting?
- How can we work to build trust among our parish family members?
Growing in and sharing the knowledge of the Orthodox Faith and our particular fields of expertise
The Orthodox Church practices infant baptism. Some criticize this tradition, suggesting that only an adult can make such a faith decision. Our response is that baptism represents only the first step in our relationship with Christ and His Church. We are invited to grow in our knowledge of the faith, to use God’s blessings to serve others with our gifts and to share the message of the Gospel with others. The Orthodox Faith demands an active response to the love of God, growing in grace and wisdom.
- In what ways do we help parish family members expand their knowledge of the teachings and practices of the Orthodox Faith?
- What parish study groups do we offer to promote this growth? What resources do we share for further enrichment with our parish family members (podcasts, webinars, books, websites, etc.)?
- Is our parish a welcoming environment that invites people to want to know more about our faith?
- Does our parish support and highlight missionary activities in the Orthodox Church, both locally and internationally?
There is much to consider in responding to the question, “What is family ministry?” For parish ministry leaders, this question needs to begin with self-reflection on the role these core values have in our own lives. We cannot lead people to grow in Christ unless we are working to grow closer to Him ourselves.
Rev. Fr. Alexander Goussetis is the Director of the Center for Family Care of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. He served parishes in Campbell, Ohio, and Lancaster, Pennsylvania, for over twenty years before his appointment to CFC.
The Center for Family Care nurtures and empowers stewards who, at the forefront of ministry within the home and parish family, navigate the joys and challenges of life. Grounded in prayer and through multifaceted resources, trainings and collaboration with the ministries of the Archdiocese and metropolises, we foster the building up of the body of Christ.
This article originally appeared in PRAXIS Volume 16: Issue 2, “Fasts and Feasts.” To learn more about PRAXIS, including how to subscribe, visit praxis.goarch.org.