Summit Presentation – International Year of the Family + 20. T Rowland

Oct 31, 2014




Mrs Toni Rowland, Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference, Family Life Desk. 


This short paper intends to present a best-practice model of a programme of family empowerment which is in line with the vision and approach of FAMILY PRESERVATION. This is presented in the manual developed by the Department of Social Development and is in itself aligned with the White Paper on Families.  The terms “parish” and “ministry” correctly suggest that there is a religious connection. This will be explained. The paper suggests that Parish Family Ministry can be regarded as an appropriate implementation vehicle for implementing the White Paper.

A brief outline of the programme presents the theoretical aspects and some examples are given to illustrate practical aspects of the programme. The history of the development of the concept of Parish Family Ministry will be provided.

History of the concept of Parish Family Ministry.

The concept of Parish Family Ministry was first conceived in the late 1990s when the late Chris Rowland and Toni were embarking on a community-based programme of marriage and family enrichment.   In terms of the vision all members of a community could be included in a family enrichment programme as while not everyone is married or a parent, everyone in some way belongs to a family, which is described as a changing, developing system. (Parsons) The work was conducted within the Catholic network in which Chris and Toni were active members.    In 1994 a Synod of Church leaders had identified an appropriate image or model for the Church in Africa, calling it Church as Family-of God, clearly expressing the religious nature of the church and of a family.

The programme evolved over time and one of its main components became developing and promoting a family focus as a basis for social and church life. Such a focus holds that all aspects of daily life impact on families more or less indirectly because of who we are and how we live as socialised beings.  This is very closely aligned to the holistic view of family life promoted by the White Paper and the Family Directorate in its vision.

Parish family ministry crystallised into three levels.

The programme:

  1. Firstly at parish or community level an awareness is created and maintained of a family focus, It is borne in mind that the community consists of families of a variety of types, with different needs and life experiences. Community events such as a grandparent celebration can honour and thank the elderly and provide some refreshments, ideally by grandchildren from the community. Communicating across the generations is an essential aspect of such an activity.   Other community events could be related to human rights and family rights, gender balance within families and beyond, care for those who are bereaved.  All aspects of daily life are looked at with “family eyes.”   HIV/AIDS is a family issue, as is domestic violence, young children having abortion, the place of child-headed households in the wider community. With an awareness of a family focus the question should not only be “what is happening in MY family,”   but “how do we interact if we recognise that we are all family together.”   In a religious community context there is a natural degree of social cohesion as members attend church services together, visit one another, meet in small groups for religious activities and often socialise with fellow church-goers.  Two possible scenarios result.   Human needs, social, psychological, emotional, spiritual and even economic are more easily addressed where a spirit of trust exists.   On the other hand families are also very private and will try to hide difficult issues even from those close to them.


  1. The second level of Parish Family Ministry focuses on relationships within a family and at home.   Meaningful communication sessions should be encouraged for couples and across generations.  These have the purpose of building trust, understanding and acceptance and reconciliation. They are occasions where family members can not only engage in a spiritual activity but also discuss issues that are relevant for them in a supportive environment.   From a problem-solving Family Preservation perspective this could be seen as a form of family conferencing.  However it is generally accepted that families – and couples _ should not only communicate in order to solve problems but to build enjoyable, empathetic relationships.


  1. The third level of Parish Family Ministry is responding to identified needs in a community.  These should be determined from completing a parish profile, by a sample of the community together with its leadership. Question for consideration would concern type of family structures, marriage, parenting, extended family with elderly and young sharing a home. An estimate of the state of relationships is also helpful. From facts about the realities contained in a profile a deduction can be made concerning needs.  With a strong belief in the value of marriage, it is important to offer effective marriage preparation. In a community of elderly the need for bereavement support will naturally emerge.



Training is provided in developing a family focus and the various areas of family life.  Those who will conduct the ministry should acquire skills to respond to needs or refer to more specialised help.  Empathy, patience and caring listening are essential skills.


Collaboration with other stakeholders is essential.  Age-in-Action cannot take over the care of one’s elderly members, or SANCA take over the responsibility for substance abuse in teens.

Parish family ministers should
Parish Family Ministry is offered within a particular church context from the basic of its belief system. This could be Christian or of another faith.  It is potentially a powerful resource within a community because of the ready access to community members. However, sometimes strict adherence to religious values, e.g. submissive role of women,  can be problematical.  Parish Family Ministry is not purely a theological or religious concept but ideally aims to link one’s religion with life through inviting all family members to witness to their own beliefs, their morals and norms in the way their human relationships are lived out in a family and beyond.

Comparison Parish Family Ministry and Family Preservation.

Four elements of FP.    Prevention, early intervention, statutory intervention, family re-unification.  Clearly Parish Family Ministry fits most easily into prevention and possible early intervention levels.

Discussion on implementation. 

The programme was developed from the mid 1990s and through the SACBC Family Life Desk training has been provided to many local communities within the church structures across the country.  However while the concept generally appeals families are often reticent or shy, and not highly empowered to conduct the kind of communication sessions at home that are a core feature.  This remains an ongoing challenge. As a response some resource material has been developed to assist.   An annual family year planner is a tool that families have enjoyed working with.  Discussion topics for family communication can come from the calendar or any general source, TV, magazines, newspapers or talk with friends.

Highlighting areas of family life for a community is a more popular aspect and speakers and workshops are frequently offered on such topics as parenting, fatherhood, marriage, the elderly. However, once again there is resistance to change and also to preventative work.

As professionals and semi-professional church care workers it is understood that programmes such as this are essential for family wellbeing.  They are potentially effective implementation tools for Family Preservation and implementation of the White Paper, not for the sake of the policy but for the good of families and their members.

However although FBO’s do have some extra influence on their members the saying still applies, “you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make him drink.”


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