"What Can Communities Of Faith Do To Help Families ? "
Rev. Peter E. Bauer
Growing up, I remember that the Church was not too friendly nor supportive to single parent families. If you were in a family with a father and mother, you had a good shot to feel welcomed and you got a lot of attention. But in the late 1960's early 1970's this was not the case. There were no such entities as single parent support groups, parenting classes, Divorce recovery groups etc. that you will see active in some congregations today. Now forty plus years later, in many cases single parent families might outnumber nuclear two parent families, and now with same sex parents the dynamic of family life in church is changing even more.
Traditionally, churches, Catholic and mainline Protestant, have offered Youth groups, Women's and Men's Fellowship, a couples group. At St. James United Church Of Christ Morrison, Mo and Zion-St. Peter United Church Of Christ Pershing, Mo, the first two churches that I served, there is a couples group called The Fellowship Crusaders. They meet monthly for social activities and community service projects. Churches have done fairly well offering opportunities for fellowship to traditional nuclear families. However, single, divorced, widowed and GLBTQ people might not find a lot of opportunities for socialization and support within congregations. One of my favorite Thanksgiving memories was having a dinner at a church with other people who were single. The configuration of people that day felt like a special diverse family.
During the economic recession of the 1980's under President Ronald Reagan, there was a lot of upheaval in the stock market and in employment numbers. A lot of people found themselves out of a job including a lot of middle level corporate executives. I was living in Waukegan, Il at that time and the First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, Il. was visionary in its approach regarding ministry to those effected by the economic downturn. The church set up a job search clearing house program that helped a lot of unemployed executives and others to become re-employed in the greater Chicago area. This program of economic and social support, I'm sure, helped a lot of families, perhaps even preventing, in some cases, inevitable divorce, substance abuse or domestic violence.
Today, families are experiencing continuing problems of economic stress, support needs for parents ( i.e. two parent, single parent, same-sex parent systems ), recreational, fellowship, service needs for youth, and programs that can address the needs of adults both married and single who are without children and for Senior Citizens and those who are caretakers for those who are elderly, disabled physically or mentally and those who are caring for those who are terminally ill.
There are also congregations that are addressing gun violence and working with those who have lost loved ones due to the deadly use of weapons. Father Dave Kelly, Director of the Precious Blood Ministry on Chicago's South side, a center that offers support to the survivors of gun violence has noted:
"I look at crime or violence as a violation of relationships. Some people are harmed, some people do that harm. So the role of restorative justice is to repair, as best as we can, those relationships.
Father Kelly also believes that in many respects we are between Good Friday and Easter, we are dealing with living out the reality of Holy Saturday. Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly | PBS
While I applaud Pope Francis on his latest encyclical on love and the family and his encouragement to clergy in the Catholic church to demonstrate more openness and mercy to families, particularly those families who have experienced divorce and re-marriage, I would argue that openness and mercy is a start, but real permanent change will only occur with the revision of religious doctrine.
Families are forever evolving. What we once thought was the normal expression of family i.e. a two-parent mother and father system, is now one of many varied expressions Children and adults need other persons, including religious leaders and communities of faith, to support them in their life long journey.
May the Church have the courage to reach out and minister effectively and boldly to all persons, in all family configuration systems, to offer hope, support and healing for us all.
May it be so.