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 | By Teresa Peterson

Young Families Find a Place for Belonging

When Gabriela Reid joined her parish in 2018, she knew no one except her fiancé. Now they are married and have a young daughter. For a few years, she and her husband struggled to find close relationships with other young married couples who were starting a family. 

“It can be hard when you are new in a church and you don’t know anyone and you are trying to meet people,” said Gabriela. 

But something in her life changed. That something is the Young Families Ministry.

She is now part of a close network of families at the parish who support each other through their faith and family experiences. The Young Families Ministry meets one Saturday a month for a potluck meal, fun, fellowship, and faith sharing in a kid-friendly setting. 

“If you have a family or are wanting a family, this is where you belong,” said Gabriela who helped to start the ministry in March of 2022.

Finding Community

Approximately 12 to 15 couples attend the monthly meet-up, with childcare provided, depending on the agenda. The members read the Gospel that will be proclaimed at the Sunday Mass and discuss how the readings impact their lives.

“This ministry has helped me feel closer to God and learn more about the faith,” said Gabriela, who is 31. She has also made friendships with people who have similar values. 

“Our goal is to bring our daughter into the faith and teach her about the faith. I think having wisdom from other individuals is very helpful,” added Gabriela.

Father Ralph D’Elia is the ministry’s spiritual advisor. He served at the Cathedral last year when the idea for the ministry was developed. He believes there is a great need for this type of ministry at parishes around the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

“During my time at the Cathedral, couples who were new parishioners came to me asking about ways to get involved. It was on my heart to find a home for these folks. We didn’t have a ministry that met their needs. I felt there was a gap there,” said Father D’Elia. 

The ministry developed organically after couples were invited to a catered meal at the parish. The couples were asked what they needed in terms of community and spiritual nourishment.

“We put together a ministry model based on what the needs are. At our monthly events, we share great conversations. We share the highs and lows of life and how we can pray for each. It’s beautiful to see how everyone wants to care for one another and pray for one another,” said Father D’Elia.

A Warm Welcome

Helping these families feel welcome is the most important part, according to Father D’Elia.

“It’s important to create these opportunities for priests and young couples to get to know one another. We want them to feel more comfortable and create an environment where they feel welcome,” said Father D’Elia.

“We want to make sure young families know they are seen, and we want them in our churches,” said Father D’Elia.

Young families face unique challenges as they experience many new responsibilities and changes to their routines. They can often feel alone and overwhelmed.

“They need to be spiritually fed in a way that reaches them where they are and addresses the concrete challenges they face in raising their families and strengthening their marriages. They need guidance that the Church can provide,” said Father D’Elia.

In October of 2022, Father D’Elia was reassigned from the Cathedral to serve as the bishop’s priest secretary, Master of Ceremonies, and chaplain at St. Petersburg Catholic High School. He remains committed to the Young Families Ministry at the Cathedral. The Cathedral’s rector, Father Tom Morgan, and parochial vicar, Monsignor Michael Carruthers, also take turns attending the monthly gathering.

Father D’Elia encourages other parishes who would like to start a similar ministry to contact him. 

“We can share our collective wisdom of what we have brought together and be a good resource,” said Father D’Elia.

How Did the Young Families Ministries Grow?

Gabriela says that personal invitation has been one of the best ways to grow the Young Families Ministry. 

“I will often approach new young families and invite them to this ministry. It can be intimidating in the beginning, but it gets easier and feels normal with time,” said Gabriela.

The ministry was advertised in the parish bulletin and through other parish communications. But a personal invitation was also needed.

“Most of the couples were personally invited. Personal invitation is more meaningful. When you are face to face, it shows you care and you want them to be a part of something. It’s been incredibly effective for us. They come to check it out and often, will stay with it. They recognize this is something that can help them stay close to Christ,” said Father D’Elia.

Learn More

To contact the Young Families Ministry, call the Cathedral of St. Jude the Apostle at 727-347-9702.

Teresa Peterson serves as Executive Director of Communications for the Diocese of St. Petersburg since 2017.