When I spoke to friends and family about addressing this topic, so many of them said, “Really? Aren’t vocations-related challenges in urban and suburban families pretty much the same?” Admittedly, encouraging children to consider religious vocations is a significant problem in nearly any setting but rural parishes may have some extra considerations. Here are but a few:
1) Only one priest at a parish (and sometimes only part-time). When a priest is spread really thin there’s no time for him to spend with children in a classroom or simply talking about God. In our parish (which is in an extremely large county) there are only lay people and the priest. If a child can’t identify with a priest because he is not from here (as is the case in our parish), the challenge is even more difficult.
2) Missing or inconsistent access to Faith Formation classes. The only religious education children in our parish can receive outside the home comes from Faith Formation and youth group participation. Like many parishes, we struggle finding volunteers to serve as catechists and many of the people who do volunteer are getting on in years. Again, it’s hard for younger children to identify and relate.
3) Lack of a vibrant and activity rich program for children and teens. I confess sometimes I envy my relatives living in urban and suburban areas whose kids are getting regular exposure to opportunities for serving the poor. We certainly have people we could serve but we lack the organization and the structure to make it happen consistently.
4) Fewer cash resources. It’s a plain fact that many rural churches simply don’t have the money required to invest in activities which would encourage vocations.
So, we need to get creative. Here are but a few ideas which parishes can consider for deepening vocations:
1) Invite your priest to come to your home for dinner, often. Include him in family celebrations as a matter of course. Prior to his arrival, talk to your children about what a priest does and why someone would choose a religious vocation.
2) When working outdoors with your children, use nature and God’s abundance to bring up the discussion of vocations. Use the miracle of the harvest to talk about how God plants seeds in the hearts of children and ask your children to listen to God’s call.
3) Provide your children with examples of saints and religious from the history of our faith. As a young girl I loved reading biographies of inspiring people and there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from.
4) Involve your children in serving the church at an early age as altar servers, custodians and volunteers.
5) Once a month, make an effort to take your children to a larger church, if feasible, so they can meet and relate to priests, religious, and lots of other children their age.
6) Use the “vocations cross” tool and have your children participate. At each Mass, we say a vocations prayer. There is a small vocations cross which rotates among families. While the cross is in your home, you say a vocations prayer each day. At Mass, the family who had the cross and the family receiving the cross come up to the altar while the vocations prayer is said and the cross passes to the next family.
7) Use your children’s craft activities to illustrate the lives of saints! If you tell your children about St. Francis, for example, challenge them to create a collage or drawing of St. Francis and the animals.
8) Tell your children of other important vocations (including marriage, music ministry, lay apostleship, celibacy, consecration, and more). Make it clear that God does call all of us to a special task and some of us are called to religious vocations.
9) Modify your nightly bedtime prayer routine to ask God to direct us in the best role for us and encourage your children to listen to their hearts.
10) Learn about the twelve Apostles and help your children come to know them as real human beings with doubts, fears and other human traits. Ask them which one they feel like today at the dinner table and encourage them to emulate the apostles as they draw closer to their Brother and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Last but not least, introduce them to the glorious story of St. Isidore the Farmer, an incredibly humble and generous worker, husband and father who devoted his life to serving the poor and less fortunate. The description of angels doing his work with the plow is one that captivates people of all ages, and St. Isidore is a great patron saint who can help your children realize that a rural life can be a blessed calling all of its own.
— Liese Peterson lives in Nevada with her husband and three swimming dogs. She is an international businesswoman and enjoys writing about her experiences as a convert to Catholicism.