Parish looks to needs of young families as a way to evangelize
December 19, 2019
By LISA SPELLMAN
How can a soft leather chair become a way to evangelize?
Providing such comforts and conveniences for families attending Mass with young children is one way St. Bernadette Parish is reaching out.
As Lori Zadina sat in that chair nuzzling her infant son, Milo, in what was once a closet in the former choir loft at the Bellevue church, she enjoys the improvements.
The young mother of three small children, ages 6, 5 and six-weeks, said the recent renovations that transformed the old choir loft used by families as a cry room into a much more family friendly space are appreciated.
Creating a more welcoming environment for young families and supporting their faith is exactly what the parish aims to do, said Father Harry Buse, pastor.
“We see a lot of young families in the neighborhood surrounding our parish and we want to draw them in,” he said. Renovating the cry room is just one way the parish is evangelizing to young families, he said.
Parishioners Jim and Kim Jansen helped lead a task force formed after a survey of parishioners a year and a half ago revealed an older demographic.
“We knew we needed to take steps to engage young families and the renovations to our church is one way to convey the message that we welcome them to our parish,” said Jim Jansen, who also is the director of the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis for the Archdiocese of Omaha.
Jansen said those renovations included cleaning the carpet, painting the walls and hanging bookshelves, one with resources for parents and another with children’s books (provided in Spanish and English), out of reach of little hands.
Sound absorbing boards were also hung to help deflect noise, he said.
Pictures of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary adorn one wall, as well as other pictures of Jesus in different settings with small children on another. A large, lacquered piece of wood painted with the inscription “Let the little children come to me” (Mt 19:14) hangs prominently on the back wall.
And the former choir loft closet that once was home to vestments and a vacuum cleaner, was opened up to reveal a beautiful stained glass window and enough space for a full-size changing table and comfy leather armchair. A simple black and white drawing of Jesus holding an infant hangs on the wall above it.
“I really like the mother’s nook where I can sit quietly with my son if I need to feed him,” Zadina said.
The emergency baby supplies, she said, are also a thoughtful addition.
The idea to provide diapers in a variety of sizes, along with wipes, came from another young mother, Susan Ely, who finds the renovations to the cry room long overdue.
While attending a family baptism at a church in Lincoln, she discovered she was out of diapers when she went to change her daughter.
“To my relief, the parish had stocked extra diapers in their cry room and I knew we needed to do the same in ours,” Ely said.
A lifelong parishioner of St. Bernadette, Ely said she remembers her own parents taking her into the choir loft during Mass when she was a child.
That was more than 30 years ago, and the environment is much more pleasant now when she takes her own children, ranging in age from 7 months to 10, to the cry room.
Zadina agrees, saying, “You definitely feel more welcome.”
“We want to build their faith and help them to feel like they have a place in our parish and not worry about if their children are noisy or cry during Mass, but that it is a good sign of a strong, vibrant parish,” Father Buse said.
The parish also reaches out to young adults and families by offering the Christ Life program after Sunday Masses, partnering with the school to welcome new families and invite them to Mass and encouraging students to invite their parents to Sunday Mass. It has also started small Lectio Divina prayer groups for moms and one for dads during the Lenten season to build faith and encourage community.
“In the end we want our church to be a place young families can call home and become part of building a stronger community of faith that will carry them throughout their lives,” Jansen said.