Family groups

What is the Family Groups Movement?

The aims of the Family Groups Movement are:

  • To get to know other members of the Parish
  • To support each other sharing each other’s joys and sorrows and so building the Christian community as in the early Church
  • To involve our children in our Christian sharing directly, if possible. If not, then indirectly by our example

The PFGM is an international organisation and was founded in 1973 by Fr Peter McGrath CP in the parish of St. Anthony in the Fields, Terrey Hills, Sydney Australia. Since then, it has grown from those very humble beginnings to an important part of community life in over 400 parishes in six countries. The Movement is Ecumenical and continues to grow.

Family groups in Whitefield

In October 2007, a not so ‘shy and retiring’ Australian priest, Father Peter McGrath, came to St Bernadette’s Church to tell us about the family group movement he set up in Australia in the mid-1970’s. With the blessing and support of our Parish Priest, Fr Chris Lough, he spoke at all Masses, talking passionately about how the groups were working in other parts of the world. He shared a DVD recording of the group in Australia from which parishioners heard directly from the members themselves how being part of a family group had enriched their life.

During Fr Peter’s visit the initial response was overwhelming with over 120 people from the parish signing up to join the Family Groups. With a little persuasion, parish coordinators, group leaders and deputies were quickly identified resulting in four strong groups being formed that very weekend. As more parishioners experienced enthusiasm for the new groups demand to join continued, resulting in a fifth Group being formed in January ‘08.

Group Structures

The family groups are supported by a network of volunteers. We have a couple who act as parish coordinators and offer support to leaders and their groups. Each group has a team of leaders and deputies whose role is to support the development of the group and to facilitate activities. However, it is the responsibility of the whole group to make it a success.

By early 2008 membership of the 5 groups at St Bernadette’s was in excess of 120 active members. The family groups comprise a rich mix of members, ranging from the single parents with children, single people, families whose children have just started school through to senior couples whose children have moved away from the area. We welcome the whole spectrum of parishioners no matter what their circumstances.

There are no rules, just a few shared principles passed on by Fr Peter. These are:

  • meet once a month
  • never cancel a meeting
  • establish an effective means of communication amongst the group
  • develop a programme of events
  • try to hold a house Mass once a year

With this in mind the five groups formed and developed their own unique identity. Activities were planned and designed around the group members; one group for example has a large number of families with small children, whereas another group has a more mature membership. We are now planning to establish a teenagers’ splinter group in the coming months to offer occasional activities for teenagers who are part of existing family groups. It is intended that this group be led and organised by the teenagers themselves.

There has been some movement across groups when members have not immediately settled into their allocated group. We work on the principle that it is better to retain and swop a family into a new group rather than lose them. This has been quite successful in retaining membership of the Parish family groups.

Leaders

The leaders and deputies are ‘volunteers’ drawn from a range of backgrounds. Some groups have married couples running them, whilst one group is led by two friends and another by two couples who share the workload.

The Parish Coordinators arrange a ‘leaders and deputies’ meeting at least once a term and this provides a good opportunity for all to share experiences and plan Parish events.

We held a successful social evening for all leaders last year in which shared a hot meal. Whilst were together we reflected on progress to date and looked towards continued expansion within the parish.

What do family Groups do?

Most people assume that family Groups are prayer based - this is not the case. Fr Peter captures the family group philosophy as "creating a sense of community in the parish and a sense of parish in the community" to create and develop a sense of belonging in our worshipping community. Most group members say that before they joined a family group, they used to attend Mass each week, smile and nod at the person next to them, even share the sign of peace but that was it! Being part of a family group has changed that with many people developing firm friendships and a network of support from within St Bernadette’s’ community. We have even been able to share the joy of new family members being baptised.