The Parish Picnic – More Than Just a Walk in the Park

This week’s installment begins a series of three more “rounds” of “FRES” items.  Yes, it’s supposed to be “FIRES,” but, just like there is no “I” in “team,” there is no “I”, since the “Initiation” element is wonderfully handled by the Catholic Church’s Rites of Christian Initiation already!  This week, we focus on the “F” for “Fellowship,” and take a look at the parish picnic.

The parish that my wife and I joined a few years ago renewed its practice of having a summer parish picnic.  While it was put on hold again during the days of the pandemic, it was held last August, and will happen again in the coming month.  It begins at noon with Mass in the pavilion with burgers, hot dogs and corn on the cob prepared by the Knights of Columbus.  Every member of the parish who comes brings a covered dish to share.  But there was a time when the picnic wasn’t held for a stretch of many summers.  It was done for a number of years, and then stopped for some reason or another.  When our previous pastor was assigned there, he realized the importance of gathering the parish community together for more than just worship or for service to one another and to the world.  There needs to be time for us to gather to be…well, us!  Remember that Jesus often spent time with just his friends and his followers, sometimes to teach them, but sometimes, just to be together, and have a meal.  I’m sure they had some fun as well.   Everyone needs some fun to balance out the pain, hurt, disappointment and sadness which can bring on depression in this crazy world we’re living in.

When I was a kid (about 50 or so years ago),  the parish picnic was so huge that it couldn’t be held at the parish. It was held at one of the pavilions at the county fairgrounds.  It was a great location…shelter so that rain wasn’t an issue, an abundance of picnic tables, and  everybody brought their own food.  The parish supplied soft drinks.

Today, I would bet many parishes that don’t have a picnic total the cost of renting tents, tables, and chairs, and then, probably more importantly, investigate the liability issues should someone get hurt on parish property.  Of course, there was the cost to rent the shelter back in the day, but the liability issue wasn’t there since it was covered in the rental fee.  But here’s a big difference: families would watch out for each others’ kids, usually because they were all neighbors!  Today, there are supervisory issues and concerns, and God forbid if one parent admonishes a child that’s not their own!  Back then, parents could socialize with parents, and kids could play in the play areas with the other kids.   Now, parents hover over their kids like helicopters not only because of safety and security issues, but because they want to record what their kids are doing and post it social media or keep for sentimental purposes.

Today, we’re experiencing two extremes – not only in our political and social climates, but in parenting styles – and one issue of constant concern.  The two parenting extremes involve parents who feel compelled to watch their children play so they don’t get hurt, and then there are those who simply don’t watch their kids – or are involved in their own social media worlds that they don’t supervise their children.  The issue of constant concern speaks to issues regarding “those who may come in contact with children.”  It’s the responsibility of the people of God, the Church, and not just the parents, to take great care in protecting all of God’s children today.  The educational programs which must be attended by both employees and volunteers who supervise, instruct or have contact with children in today’s parishes and schools are of utmost importance.

Perhaps this type of instruction should also be expanded to include instruction on parenting.  Sure, the Church prepares parents for Baptism, but in many parishes, there aren’t educational activities to teach parental  responsibilities.  Why is this important?  Many of today’s parents are members of Generation X, and more and more, the Millennial generation.  They may not have learned excellent parenting skills from their parents, since many are from single-parent families, and that single-parent may have been out working, which led to the phenomenon of the “latchkey” children which began in the 1970’s.  They also may not want to consider the parish a “family” since their family experience may not have been a good one.   Religious education is great…but a basic education of what it means to be a family and on-going reinforcement of what it takes to maintain a good marriage is fundamental to the “higher thinking” involved with education in the faith.  Remember, Jesus fed people before he taught them, and he didn’t have to say what constituted a family.  A husband was to love his wife, and the widows were cared for by the temple (wouldn’t THAT be a nice practice to have today).  Basic needs must first be satisfied before we can participate in “higher order” activities.

If you’ve been keeping track of these weekly ParishAdvancement  items, you’ve seen that “Fellowship” installments have suggested Evenings of Praise and Worship during the week every week, monthly gatherings, such as Spaghetti Dinners, and yearly events, such as the summer Parish Carnival/Bazaar.  These are all elements that build up the parish community.  You could say that because of Baptism, we become sons and daughters of God, and brothers and sisters in Jesus, but until we realize that we need to gather as a family, and not just a community more than just once a week, the more we’ll struggle to revitalize our parishes, not just from an advancement perspective, but from the salvific one, too.

This item was reinforced a couple of summers ago as our family spent a week away from home on vacation together a few years ago.  Our three adult children were also able to share in the experience, and two of them brought the person they’ve been dating.  We only went out for dinner for a couple of nights, and spent the rest of the evening cooking dinner, setting the table, eating in, and then, sharing in the clean up duties, and staying in and playing some board games, or watching a movie while enjoying popcorn.  Turns out we needed that time of strengthening our family ties since my wife’s sister passed away just a couple of weeks after our experience.  And what was everyone’s favorite time during the week-long vacation?  The time around the table.  And it shouldn’t matter if it’s a dining room table, a kitchen table, a picnic table, or the Eucharistic table.

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