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Thursday
Sep212017

Peacocks and Parish Children

Photo: www.designpics.com

 

Klaudia Raniszewska connects with families whose children her church had baptized – as long ago as 10 years – but with whom it had lost touch. Photo: Sue Careless

By Sue Careless

Anglican Church of Canada parishes don’t turn away parents who bring their children to be baptized – however tenuous the family’s connection to the local church. But while some pre-baptismal preparation is usually offered, all too often the parents do not bring the child to Sunday school after the rite, and the church loses touch with the baptized child.

Some parishes conduct follow-up visits with such families in the year after their child’s baptism. St George’s in Moncton, New Brunswick, decided to go back a full decade and try to reconnect with families whose children it had baptized but with whom it had lost touch.

The task was given to Klaudia Raniszewska who was hired as Parish Outreach Coordinator in July. Klaudia searched through the parish records and discovered about 150 families who had had at least one child baptized at St George’s within the past ten years. Many had moved away but about 60 families were still living in or around Moncton.

Rather than phone ahead and risk a rejection, Klaudia visited in the summer evenings while it was still light, but after supper when a parent would likely be home.

On one such outing Klaudia felt lost and happened down a bumpy dirt road at nightfall. When she parked her car her eyes were drawn to a peculiar lawn ornament but as she stepped out of her vehicle the strange ornament moved. Lo and behold, it was a live peacock, which belonged to the very family for which she had been searching.

After she explained who she was and where she was from they laughed and told her “You’re pretty far from home!” But they were happy to welcome her and accepted her little gift bag. It contained a candle, a simple cross and a card with the Lord’s Prayer and a mealtime grace. She also gave them her business card, on the back of which was a prayer for the family.

While she wanted a face-to-face, personal encounter with a parent, she was careful to be non-threatening and to keep a professional distance. She remained on the front porch even if she was invited into the home. If they were in the garden she might talk over the fence but not enter further into the property. After all, she was a stranger to most of them. But when she mentioned the priest who had baptized their child, many warmly remembered the Rev’d Chris VanBuskirk.

She would chat for five or ten minutes, then leave after confirming the names and ages of the children. While a few of the baptized were now adults, most were 13 and under.

In August she prepared a monthly parish outreach newsletter and visited each home again. This first newsletter had on one side a calendar for September listing all the activities at St George’s, including not only service times but also the hours for Beavers, Cubs and Scouts and special events. Enough space was left in each square for the family to jot down their own activities.

The other side had seven different entries, including a simple crossword puzzle for children and a picture to colour. There was a joke and a “Did You Know?” box as well for the older children. Klaudia has her Masters in Biochemistry so in this sidebar she could write easily about the wonders of science and DNA.

All the families with baptized children will receive these monthly newsletters for the next year. And Klaudia is ready to greet them if they come to church, but also to meet them again on their front porches as she personally delivers the letters. It is a long, time-consuming process but one she feels is well worth it. 

“Most of the families are still trying to figure out why I’m at their doorstep, but I’ll enter if asked,” said Klaudia of her later visits. “It’s been a good experience to deliver the newsletter, with many smiles and some had recognition in their eyes. One step at a time!”

Currently there are 62 families in her care, of which only five attend regularly. And she is visiting and hand-delivering her newsletter to them as well.

Some families who had children baptized but who don’t attend St George’s regularly are not completely unaffiliated with church. They either come sporadically or attend other Anglican churches or denominations.

“Their children may have a friend in a particular church and it becomes a nice way to meet,” said Klaudia. “This was the testimony of one of the mothers I met on my first round of visits. There was also a family whose eldest child, a teen, had found his home in a Baptist church, and then the rest of the family went there to stay together.”

Tragically one of her parish children passed away at the end of August. He was a 12-year-old altar boy who attended church regularly. His death only underscored for Klaudia the importance of reaching out to young families.

“God is merciful, but some children die without knowing our Lord, and that’s heartbreaking and leaves unfathomable questions. We need to teach our children and grandchildren about God; otherwise we’re leaving them at the mercy of the world, without any armour to fight in.” 

Besides the newsletter she is preparing a child-friendly blog on Facebook to share little stories, videos and song links as well as prayers for children.

“From my experience, discovering people can be much more exciting than travelling to exotic destinations” and, as she learned from her encounter with the peacock, “Sometimes the exotic can be found only a modest drive outside of Moncton.”

 

Klaudia’s own story

Klaudia herself was born into a devout Roman Catholic family in Poland. Her father worked in the Gdansk shipyards alongside Lech Walesa and supported him in the Solidarity movement. It got so dangerous under the Communist occupation that her father had to go underground and flee to Denmark when Klaudia was only five. Two years later she and her mother joined him.

Klaudia graduated from the University of Copenhagen and immigrated alone to Canada in 2012. She worked for two and a half years in cancer research at the George Dumont University Hospital Centre in Moncton but gradually sensed a calling to more involvement in the church.  

She knew science could find objective truth but she was open to spiritual realities as well. “I had been exploring truth my entire life.”

One evening in her apartment after watching Terrence Malick’s 2011 film The Tree of Life, she sensed God’s presence “like a waterfall” washing over her.

A Baptist friend recommended she visit St George’s as he’d heard good things about it and felt it would be closer to her roots than his own denomination. It proved a good fit.

“I could see Jesus Christ, his story, his presence here. It was so evident, so intense,” she said. “What I see here is absolutely a miracle. There is so much Scripture. This is my home.” 

This Thanksgiving Sunday at St. George’s those attending the main service at 10 a.m. will be able to celebrate not only Holy Communion but also the wedding of Klaudia and her fiancé William Ross. They wanted the whole congregation to be in attendance and then join them for a light lunch afterwards downstairs in the parish hall. This actually harkens back to medieval times when weddings usually took place during the Sunday morning service, witnessed by the whole faith community.  

Before her recent hiring as Parish Outreach Coordinator, she spent two years delving deeper into Christianity and its Anglican expression. She sees her role more as a missionary but realizes that many of those she is trying to reach are not comfortable with that title.

When she was fifteen, she had had a conversation with her parish priest in her Danish village of Roskilde. He was an American-born Franciscan monk who had served as a missionary in Asia.

“When I asked him what made him go out and disturb people’s peace by preaching a religion different from their own – a religion that probably clashed with their culture, offended some, and could perhaps end up cutting new converts off from their relatives, he said ‘If you knew the cure for cancer, would you not want to share it with the rest of the world?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered, and he continued, ‘Only Jesus Christ holds the cure for death. I want everyone to know that.’

“I didn’t understand what he meant back then, but as I drive my car in search of the homes of our parish families, I sometimes recall his words. I had never in my life expected to do missionary work, but here I am, thinking it the best and most meaningful calling to proclaim my Lord Jesus Christ to the world.”  TAP

 

How it all adds up

Number of addresses/families visited: 59

Number of children in all: 71

Ages: 

   0-4         14

  5-6         13

  7-9         19

10-12       16

13+            9 

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