By Elsa Manu
At the end of a Parish organised prayer and games Zoom last week, my twelve year old son turned to me and said “We should do this again Mum, cos it’s nice to belong to this group from the Parish. They all know us.” Later that week, we had a zoom organised to celebrate our parish priest’s 20th anniversary. When I thanked the elderly parishioner for her part in the event, she replied, “Oh it felt nice to be part of it. I really felt like I belonged.”
There was that word again, ‘belong.’ I couldn’t help but reflect on what exactly it was about belonging that drew people in. What in particular, does it do to the human spirit when we feel like we are truly a part of something?
“… as psychologists explain, there is also a fundamental human need to feel connected to others, “in a meaningful community.”
As a member of the leadership team for Family Educators in Sydney Catholic Schools, we are often reminding our team of the need to build community. But in building that community, we are doing so essentially, in the hope of fostering a sense for belonging in each and every individual. We are constantly creating opportunities where one can feel part of a group, where they can have a role, where gifts and talents are recognised, utilised, and where people can feel affirmed, valued and loved.
You see, ‘belonging’ is not just another universal characteristic of human beings, but as psychologists explain, there is also a fundamental human need to feel connected to others, “in a meaningful community.” Meaningful community. Is there anything more meaningful than being part of a community founded on the Gospel values, where we are challenged to be the best version of ourselves, encouraged to have an outward perspective, to help those in need and in a community that gives your life not only meaning, but purpose and joy?
It is this understanding that fuels the work of the Family Educators. Part of the role of the Family Educator is to accompany and support school parents on their faith journeys. This is a spiritually diverse group, many of whom admit they have disengaged from the Church, so the challenge is real! We often speak of the need to ‘meet people where they are at,’ but essentially what we’re telling them is, “you belong, you matter, irrespective of where you are at (in your faith journey)’ so, “come and join us!”
One thing we’ve discovered in this role, is how deeply impactful those last four words can be, particularly with our understanding of this inner need to belong. “Come and join us for coffee, come and join us for a prayer walk, come and join us to make sandwiches for the homeless.” It begins with an invitation into light initiatives, where one can have a ‘taste test’ into the experience of… ‘meaningful community.’
“Part of the role of the Family Educator is to accompany and support school parents on their faith journeys.”
As these relationships build into real friendships and people feel they have secured a role, we often see this move into a desire to explore the faith more deeply. During ‘Lockdown,’ some Family Educators responded to this curiosity by offering courses. For those with a high percentage of non-Catholics in their community, Alpha courses were provided and for others, it was a course on understanding the Mass or the Sacraments. These have been- increasingly popular with parents and something that will continue to be offered as restrictions ease.
If there’s one thing we know about the current disconnect experienced during Lockdown, it’s that it provides new opportunities to evangelise. Whether behind the screen or at the school gate, Family Educators will continue to send invitations to “come and join us.” Come and belong to our meaningful community of faith.