Stay-at-home focus gives families opportunities to reunite around God

| Debbie Musser | April 28, 2020 | 0 Comments

From left, Sadie, Charles III, Ben, Tanya and Charles Goff Jr. take a walk in their Wood-bury neighborhood April 23. It is one meaningful way the family can connect, Tanya said, during the stay-at-home order. DAVE HRBACEK | THE CATHOLIC SPIRIT

Families throughout the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis are finding themselves together at home much more than ever before, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While the situation brings many struggles, some families are enjoying a slower pace of life and opportunities for growth in faith.

“We’re hearing of families having dinner together far more often than they ever have,” said Bill Dill, marriage preparation and youth ministry events coordinator in the archdiocese’s Office of Marriage, Family and Life.

“Family dinners are one of the most fruitful aspects of life for healthy youth development, and I hope families don’t let go of this in PQ (post-quarantine) life,” Dill said.

Dill noted that faith conversations have moved home as well. “We in the ministry world have become increasingly aware that faith formation of young people has grown to be a bit out of balance, with far more happening with the ‘experts’ at the parish and not nearly enough by the most important people in young people’s lives — their parents.”

Brianna St. Amour, who heads youth ministry and middle school faith formation at St. Ambrose in Woodbury, said many families who normally can’t attend daily Mass at St. Ambrose have now made the parish’s livestream Mass part of their morning routine. She’s also hearing from families who have never really taken the time to pray together, or maybe didn’t know how to begin.

“Now somewhat forced to pray together, it has broken down a barrier that was present, allowing them to talk about faith and find ways to grow together as a family,” St. Amour said.

The Goff family — Charles Jr., 48; Tanya, 46; Charles III, 19; Ben, 17; and Sadie, 14 — sets aside time each Sunday to watch St. Ambrose’s livestream Mass.

“We watch Mass and we are present,” said Tanya. “There are pros and cons; it seems more intimate when it’s just our small family, but it seems so distant as well.”

Tanya said she’s always relished family time, so she loves that everyone is now home, including their oldest son, who returned from the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

“We don’t feel rushed anymore. We go on walks, and we just talk,” Tanya said. “I’m checking in to make sure the kids are OK, as they are social beings, which can make navigating this situation a challenge.”

Tanya noted that time spent at home has been easier for the “bookends” — their oldest and youngest children — as they tend to be more homebodies, while middle child Ben is more social.

“It’s different, but I’ve been able to adapt,” Ben said. “I prioritize by making time to talk to people on the phone or the computer to continue my social life.”

Ben also appreciates gathering as a family each Sunday for Mass.

“We put aside everything to watch Mass, and then we talk about how we perceived the readings and the homily,” he said. “Because we’re all together in our house, it’s a lot easier to have those discussions right after Mass, as we have the time to talk and reflect.”

The Faulkner family, parishioners of Holy Family in St. Louis Park, appreciates meals together without having to run out the door to an activity or event.

“We also have more time for morning prayer as a family, and discussing the readings of the day,” said Bill Faulkner, 47. He and his wife, Erica, 43, are the parents of Eleanor, 12, Katharine, 9 and William, 6.

“It was very different going through Holy Week without going to church, but there were blessings, including a renewed sense of appreciation for the richness of our faith tradition and the sacraments,” Faulkner said. “Because of the quietness and opportunity for reflection absent distractions, in some ways we lived one of our most meaningful Holy and Easter weeks.”

Holy Family’s pastor, Father Joseph Johnson, received photos from families celebrating Holy Week at home, including a father washing his family members’ feet, families venerating the cross, and a family lighting a bonfire for the Easter vigil.

“We too easily separate from one another when we’re busy,” Father Johnson said. “This is a great invitation to appreciate one another and strengthen the family as the domestic church, as faith begins at home.”

Bryan Binstock, 53, serves as a high school small group leader at his parish, St. Paul in Ham Lake. He and his wife, Bridget, 51, are the parents of Nathan, 21, Melissa, 19, and Matthew, 16.

“We spend many evenings playing games as a family, but also virtual game nights with friends and extended family,” Binstock said. “We are a very social family, so it has been challenging not to be able to spend time with others outside the house.”

“But the time together has been priceless,” he added. “We’ve had more conversations around important topics with all the kids. And more family prayer time.”

Cate Bunnell, director of youth ministry at St. Paul in Ham Lake, has found the shifts in family life heartening.

“It’s been beautiful to support families in their call to be ‘the domestic church’ at the present moment,” she said. “God has good things and abundant blessings to come in the future, yes, but he is also pouring out his goodness and blessings right now.”

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