What do parents really need from a Parish?

Responses to the Parish Survey


“Taking part in the Mass is the hallmark of the Catholic, central and crucial to our Catholic identity… For Catholics now, as in the past, the Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life.” (One Bread, One Body, quoted on p44 of the Diocesan Pastoral Plan for East Anglia)

Children and young people should be included as fully as possible in each ordinary Mass (p17)


In response to the points raised by the Pastoral Plan on children’s work, St Laurence’s Parish here in Cambridge circulated a survey in the summer of 2004 to canvass views on how improvements could be made. Over 250 copies were circulated: those families whose children had been baptised at St Laurence’s within the last 5 years received a copy in the post and the survey form was also offered after Mass on Sundays and at the two children’s groups run by the Parish. There were 15 respondents, representing around a 6% return rate which is good for a survey with no return envelope and no extrinsic incentive to return it.


 The response to the individual questions was as follows.


1) What do you think would improve the accessibility of Mass to children and young families?;


        *Structurally; what changes if any, do you think could be made in the layout of the seating or other features in the body of the church which would make it more child-friendly?


  • Reserve space for families with mobile young children(3 respondents) e.g. front row
  • Reserve seating area for parents with buggies or car seat (7 respondents) The lack of such an area and the consequent obstruction caused by push chairs etc was noted to be a fire hazard by 1 respondent; another suggested extra floor space between a couple of pews; the need for areas for buggies to be alongside seating so that you could stay with your child was noted by two other respondents.
  • Broadcast the Mass into the Narthex and rooms next to the school hall
  • Enclosed area within the body of the church with a loudspeaker (2 respondents, one suggesting this should be glass fronted as was the area reserved for children in the Parish she had originated from)
  • Removing kneeler on front bench
  • Removing chairs down the sides of the church

One respondent who attends the 9.30am Mass felt that access was good and another felt that changes to benefit young families would be unnecessary and costly and use up resources better spent on other priorities.


  *Notices; is there any information or policy which you feel should be visible on entering the church?


A permanent notice;

 *should explain what seating provision has been made primarily for parents with buggies and car seats.(2 respondents; one noting that their first experience at St Laurence’s was of being told to move the pram)

 *should indicate where to find the confessional

*welcoming children and stating that parents are not expected to remove them

*about childrens’ liturgy setting expectations (ie accompanying parent, age groups catered for and weekends when it was not running, future childrens’ liturgy events; 3 respondents)

*stating that mothers should feel free to breastfeed their children (3 respondents, one expressing having felt nervousness breast feeding in church and another stating “my main concern is that women don’t feel able to breastfeed in the church…[it] can …lead to a woman….not attending Mass when her children are small”)

* indicating where to find the toilets (3 respondents)

* indicating where to find the baby changing facilities

One respondent was opposed to displaying any policies which facilitated any particular group as they felt this could alienate people.


 *Are there any facilities which are not currently provided at St Laurence’s which you think would make bringing young children to Mass easier?


(eg bible story books and/or other appropriate resources for children to use during Mass, toilet facilities, bike parking etc)



*Bible story books/ Mass books (10 respondents)

* activity sheets (3 respondents ) One provided details of where to obtain good, themed activity sheets which she had seen provided elsewhere and used with her own children.

*Potties (3 respondents)

* bags of toys “non-battery, non-noisy but with great fiddle potential”, as had been helpfully provided at another parish

* childrens’ toilet seat

* step for children to reach the sink

* a clean toilet (one respondent noted that the toilet with the changing table is very grubby)

*The repository should sell childrens’ Mass books

* Sheffield bike racks (2 respondents) One noted that encouraging families to cycle would alleviate the pressure on parking spaces, the other noting that these would be of benefit both to young families and others.

Three respondents were unaware that the church already offers baby changing facilities and felt the need for them.


2) Are there any existing features, policies or other factors which you feel are actively making bringing children to Mass difficult?


Lack of resources for children during Mass (2 respondents)

No area to take babies where you could still be involved in the Mass

One respondent felt the structure of the Mass made it difficult to make it a child-friendly service

Not having Childrens’ Liturgy in the holidays especially needed at Christmas

Current arrangements for childrens liturgy (2 respondents, one feeling it needed more focus another suggested asking teenagers in the Parish to help out under the direction of an adult so the children could form smaller groups )

*more pens & crayons for Childrens Liturgy

Being on your own at Mass with a child (one respondent wondered if anyone was prepared to help lone parents out)

No (4 respondents)

One felt that 11am Mass was child-friendly


3)Have you any other comments or suggestions on how to make Mass more accessible? (please feel free to continue on additional sheets)


* sometimes Childrens’ Liturgy might have the children make a group picture rather than individual colouring to help children interact when they don’t know any one

*children should be sent back to parents from childrens’ liturgy if they are behaving disrespectfully

*a Teenagers Liturgy, as one respondent considered that teenagers did not currently feel catered for

*use of signing during the main prayers and singing

*inviting parishioners to hold hands during the Our Father

*make more of the children returning from the Childrens’ Liturgy to Mass (2 respondents)

*making a positive statement that children are welcome and that parents do not have to feel embarrassed

* shorter 11am Mass

*any changes might alienate those without children


“Care should be taken to involve children at Mass, making full use of the options and flexibility provided by the Church’s liturgical documents” (Pastoral Plan P17)


Do you have any suggestions as to how young children could be made to feel more involved in the actual celebration of the Eucharist?

  • making some hymns interactive
  • inviting children up for a blessing if they have not made their first Holy Communion
  • involving children as well as adults in the offertory procession (2 respondents)
  • occasionally inviting children into the Sanctuary up for the Eucharistic Prayer ( 3 respondents)
  • “We like it as it is (at the 11am Mass)”






 “A range of “faith and fun” activities should be provided for the pre-school and primary school children of the parish according to their age, so that the parish becomes a “second home” where they are nourished in the faith and enjoy being together as part of the family of the church”.

There are currently two childrens’ groups running for the under 5s in the Parish; Mustard Seeds 9.45 to 11.30 on Mondays for parents and their children 2 years and upward and the Perfect Praise singing group 10.30 – 12  on Tuesdays for post-natal support and children 0 -4 years old.


1)       What features would you look for in bringing your child to a Parish-based group?

  • Singing (3 respondents)
  • arts & crafts
  • Christian spirituality (2 respondents)
  • approachable, welcoming people (5 respondents)
  • somewhere where parents can gain an idea of how to present their Faith to their children
  • meeting other Catholic parents & children (2 respondents)
  • relaxed atmosphere
  • already catered for.. Mustard Seeds is good (2 respondents)



      2)  Would you welcome a so called “buggy Mass” ie a Mass specifically inviting young children and their parents held during the week? If so, when do you think would be the most convenient time?

* yes 9.30/ 10am (4 respondents, no consensus as to best day)

*yes 10.30am (2 respondents)

*”no, Mass should always be open to all”

* could hold it in the Parish Room

*could hold it in people’s houses

*such a Mass should not used to cater for children alone; Sunday Mass should be accessible to children too (2 respondents)


 3) Do you have any additional suggestions as to services or groups that should be offered for children during the week at St Laurence’s?

*offering preparation for First Holy Communion on a weekday late afternoon

* a lending library of resources on Christmas, Easter, death etc

* after school club for children who don’t go to the Primary school

* an evening group maybe once a month giving support on how to bring up our children as Catholics with some guidance from a Priest and sharing ideas from other parents


“Single parents merit special care and support from the parish community” (PP P19)


Do you have any suggestions as to how single parents (or parents attending Mass alone with their children) might be better supported?


  • kind words from other parishioners at Mass (2 respondents)
  • giving the congregation the clear message that everyone is welcome
  • a friendly helper if things get difficult
  • a partner system for lone parents who want their children to attend Childrens’ Liturgy, so they can take turns taking the children out


Other comments;

*more could be done but St Laurence’s is in general a welcoming Parish (2 respondents)

*”The children would tell you they enjoy Childrens’ Liturgy, the Harvest Festival and going to coffee after Mass”

*Please can we build on this survey by doing equivalent surveys for parents of primary and secondary age children (2 respondents)

and a version for secondary age children to complete themselves (1 respondent)

*”Fr David’s warmth and his understanding of children make a huge difference to the Parish”





Summary and Proposals


One respondent expressed the view that no steps need be taken to make Mass more inclusive of families with small children. In the light of the questions raised by the Pastoral Plan, the experiences related and suggestions made by parents and the disparity between the numbers of those baptised at St Laurence’s and those attending Sunday Mass, inaction is not an option. A smile is only as welcoming as the willingness it expresses to provide visitors and others with the practical support they need to stay in Mass with their children. Evidently any measures adopted would, in the spirit of the Pastoral Plan, need to be inclusive; they would also need to be easy to implement and cost implications would have to be considered.



1)       Make good use of the notice boards in the new porch way to make people feel at home as they come in;

A theme that recurred several times in responses was that parents should not need to feel apologetic about bringing children. A statement that children are welcomed at all Masses* as parishioners in their own right in any welcoming leaflet together with notices stating where families with buggies could sit, where to find facilities and that breastfed children and their mothers are welcome** would go a long way towards putting families immediately at their ease.


2) Once the new balcony has been built, decide where it is expected that families with toddlers, buggies and car seats are going to be invited to sit; this was the most popular and pressing change proposed by respondents. It might be as complex and costly as glassing off an area at the back with seats and space for prams or as simple and cost-free as removing a couple of benches.


3) Provide a box of Bible story books, Mass books and toddler-friendly toys at each entrance (two thirds of respondents felt the need for this) Welcomers could be asked to offer it to families with young children just as they offer Mass sheet and bulletins at the moment.


4) provide a couple of potties, a plastic stepping stool and a childrens’ toilet seat in the toilet


5) consider suggestions made for Childrens’ Liturgy and implement the most practicable and pressing of these


6) consider suggestions made for involving children more fully in the Mass and select those most practicable and inclusive.


7) consider asking a volunteer to coordinate partnerships between parents who bring children to Mass on their own


8) consider inviting volunteers to set up a group to think over other proposals for children and parents and set up and help run those as were felt practicable (ie after school club, group for Catholic parents, lending library and late afternoon preparation for First Holy Communion)


9) circulate a similar survey specifically targeted at parents of primary and secondary age children


10) consider installing some Sheffield bars, encouraging more people to cycle and reduce congestion



*As regards Masses during the week, they are already said every day except Monday (when there is a Eucharistic Service) and mostly at the preferred time (9.30) of most families looking for a weekday Mass. Perhaps all that is needed is a clear restatement of the principle that these are open to all people of whatever age.

** The National Childbirth Trust produces small stickers similar to those indicating where to find disabled facilities, for display in premises that welcome breastfeeding mothers & children