Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Baptism Pathway at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg Designed to Engage Couples and Build Relationships

Father Kenneth Roth baptizes the son of Tyler and Susanne Beach at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg.
Father Kenneth Roth baptizes the son of Tyler and Susanne Beach at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg.

An innovative Baptism-prep program at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg is forming parents with instruction on the sacrament and providing them with tools for parenthood – all while helping them build bonds within the parish family.

Introduced more than a year ago, the Baptism Pathway program is a step-by-step journey that engages parents in the Sacrament of Baptism and ways to grow in Christian discipleship.

For parents, the Baptism Pathway is a journey of accompaniment with the parish, which says it aims to “provide the tools necessary for becoming the parents God created you to be, so that your child can become the person he or she was created to be.”

The program is part of the parish transformation process St. Joseph’s began to undertake a few years ago, inspired by the Divine Renovation Network, which supports parishes in their efforts to be missionary through evangelization, hospitality and leadership.

“One of the pieces of the Divine Renovation transformation was to look at our sacramental prep programs and discern how to better engage people, build relationships and make disciples through that process,” said Becky Davis, Family Ministries Coordinator at St. Joseph’s.

Davis walks soon-to-be parents along the pathway, which includes the traditional steps of registering with the parish, selecting godparents, and meeting with the priest or deacon to talk about the sacrament.

But the heart of the pathway begins when parents are presented with instructional resources and connected with a parish mentor couple.

St. Joseph Parish provides parents with Dynamic Catholic’s “Starting Point,” a two-pronged set of resources that include a video series and a personal journal to help parents get to the heart of raising a child in the faith.

The videos, rather whimsical in nature, give moms and dads various insights, tools and encouragement that hit the high points of the Church’s teaching about Baptism. The accompanying journal inspires parents to give words to the dreams their have for their child. With prompts and space for writing down the story behind their child’s name to considering the culture of the home and habits to develop – and avoid – the journal presents insights into how the Church wants each family to be happy.

Parents are also paired with a parish mentor couple along the Baptism Pathway, connecting them to a familiar couple who have “been there, done that” when it comes to raising children.

“The idea of a mentor couple for Baptism prep is similar to mentor couples in marriage prep, where you’re connected with people and you form and build relationships,” Davis explained. “In this case, it’s with another young couple at a similar stage in life who gets what it’s like to have a screaming toddler at Mass, and balancing work and family.”

Meetings with trained mentor couples can be facilitated over Zoom, so that they’re scheduled after the kids have gone to bed. Using the “Starting Point” journal as a guide, discussions explore the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism, the Baptismal Promises the parents make when their child receives the sacrament, and the joys and challenges of raising children in today’s culture.

“The role of the mentor couple is to be a real-life example. They’re the theology lived out,” Davis said. “The goal of the program is to focus on impacting people’s lives. This process helps the couple focus on their hopes for their child of God and what that looks like lived out in a Catholic family – in joys, messes, arguments, sibling rivalry, balancing faith and activities.”

“The mentoring aspect forms holy friendships, too,” she added. “I know so many of our Baptism Pathway families who come to us and say they don’t know who to ask to be their child’s godparent because they don’t know any young practicing Catholics or they don’t have family nearby. So the program kind of helps build those good Catholic friendships as well.”

In the program’s first year, nine mentor couples have been part of the parish’s process of walking with the parents of 42 baptized children. For many new parents, the program has been a gateway to fuller participation the life of the parish.

Tyler and Johanna Jastromb hold their son Isaac at his baptism at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg in October.
Tyler and Johanna Jastromb hold their son Isaac at his baptism at St. Joseph Parish in Mechanicsburg in October.

Tyler and Johanna Jastromb were among the parents in the program this year as they prepared for their son Isaac’s baptism on October 22.

Tyler said the program “went beyond the procedural instructions of the ceremony, highlighting what is so special about infant baptism, and really built up anticipation for Isaac’s special day.”

“Our mentors were extremely knowledgeable and shared many resources for us to delve into between our meetings with them,” he added. “One thing they shared that really resonated with us was this description of baptism: that we would be giving Isaac back to God. We hadn’t thought of baptism that way before. It’s a beautiful illustration of not only the baptism ceremony but how we want to raise Isaac in the faith. It was also great to meet another young family in our parish who we’ve seen at Masses since.”

Tyler and Susanne Beach also delved into the program this year in preparation for their son’s baptism.

“We were grateful to go through the Baptism Pathway program because it gave us the opportunity to take time out from our busy days to sit down and reflect on our dreams for our baby and how those dreams intertwine with our plans for his future faith journey,” Susanne said.

“We had a fabulous mentor couple who were the perfect model couple; kind, compassionate and knowledgeable,” she continued. “One key memory I have from our time together is that each year on the anniversaries of their children’s baptisms, they have a celebration. We plan to do the same, as this is a great way to reflect with your child on the importance of this sacrament, and to remind him that he is a child of God.”

Davis said the focus of the program is to engage parishioners, build relationships and make disciples in the process.

That means meeting couples wherever they are on their faith journey. Whether they’re the parents of six children, first-time moms and dads, couples who attend Mass every week or twice a year, or in families where one parent is Catholic and the other is not, the parish meets them where they are.

“We see couples of every kind,” Davis said. “Some are excited about the program, some are super busy or a little hesitant. Our mentor couples are so good at connecting and engaging. They have a sense of hospitality and welcome, and not judging on whether someone is ‘good enough.’”

“Our goal is to welcome them with radical hospitality, hear their concerns, meet them where they’re at. In that sense, what we’re doing here is evangelization,” she said.

(Photos courtesy of the Jastromb and Beach families.)

By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness

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