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Listening As a Place to Start
Tara Stenger on Nov 10, 2022

In the 2021 book, Handing Down the Faith — How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation, authors Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk of the University of Notre Dame’s Center for the Study of Religion and Society note “the overriding importance of parents”:

"Some readers might be surprised to know that the single, most powerful causal influence on the religious lives of American teenagers and young adults is the religious lives of their parents. Not their peers, not the media, not their youth group leaders or clergy, not their religious schoolteachers. Myriad studies show that, beyond a doubt, the parents of American youth play the leading role in shaping the character of their religious and spiritual lives, even well after they leave home and often for the rest of their lives…

"The influence of parents on children while they still live at home—including their influence on the religious identities, beliefs and practices—is paramount, lasting for years, decades, often lifetimes. The best general predictor of what any American is like religiously, after comparing all of the other possible variables and factors, is what their parents were like religiously when they were growing up.” (Smith and Adamczyk, 2021, pp. 1-3)

The National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry (NFCYM) was granted a large grant from the Lily Endowment for their Partnering with Parents Initiative, which aims to “train church leaders to work more effectively with parents and caregivers in the faith formation of their children.” In preparation for the grant application, the Partnering with Parents steering committee did listening sessions across the United States and Canada. The goal of these listening sessions was to hear from those working within the Church (pastoral workers, clergy, etc.) and parents themselves.

While this exercise was for a larger purpose, it became apparent that it could be fruitful for a Family of Parishes or an individual parish to hear the needs, concerns and hopes of the families they serve. This is an effective way to partner with parents in the faith development of their children but also to aid parents as disciples on their own journey of faith.

A listening session is different from just surveying families. While a survey tends to focus on seeking answers to a specific goal or objective, a listening session requires listening for honest feedback without looking for “correct” answers. It is a relational exercise where trust is built, people can be vulnerable and feedback is received and responded to in prayer.

In the coming months, the Office of Family Ministry plans to provide the tools for you to offer listening sessions for families in your communities. For this particular listening session, the questions look at the gift of family, what that means from the Church’s perspective, how the church and families can partner together and what that would look like in the future if they successfully did. Responses can give a baseline for where families are currently. If you would like more information, in the meantime, please contact Tara Stenger at stenger.tara@aod.org or 313-237-6056.

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