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Elizabeth Ministry: Encouraging, Supporting Mothers in Faith
Velda Krieger had plans to attend a dance recital even though none of her six grandchildren or even her great-grandchild would be appearing. Her eagerness was to see Gretchyn, Isaac and Hazel Bowman perform.
Krieger has known Robert and Stephanie (Porta) Bowman for years. She’d attended their wedding and the baptisms of their five children, so it was easy to say “yes” when Bonnie Liedel, director of elementary faith formation for the Catholic communities of the L’Arbre Croche, invited her to mentor Stephanie as part of the cluster’s fledgling Elizabeth Ministry.
“The ministry is based on the Visitation story of Mary and Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel,” states the international organization’s website. “It is one of the most profound examples of sharing faith in all of Scripture. The sanctity of life and power of the Spirit is revealed in the common sharing of these two women.”
“The goal,” Liedel said, reading from a guide for ministry leaders, “is to support, encourage, affirm and comfort women and their families during their childbearing years.”
Bowman has found just that.
“I was very excited,” she said of Krieger’s initial call, which came at a time when she needed support. “Really, it was like God sent her and this ministry and actual love,” said Bowman. “I felt so comfortable (with her).”
While the Elizabeth Ministry is multi-faceted, locally it focuses on “celebrating birth,” working with parents and their newborns through age 3.
“It’s just taking off,” said Liedel, who helped launch the program in October. “We’re learning as we’re doing.” To date, six mentors have been paired with six mothers and babies within the cluster, which includes Holy Childhood, Harbor Springs; Holy Cross, Cross Village; St. Nicholas, Larks Lake; and St. Ignatius, Good Hart.
Parents are introduced to the ministry during baptismal preparation classes, “so we’re not making cold calls,” said Liedel. The idea is to begin faith formation even before preschool, helping parents to recognize it as part of raising a child.
Mentors visit a minimum of three times a year, delivering “Parent Letters,” (faith-based literature geared toward their young family) small gifts and encouragement. On this particular day, Krieger arrived at the Bowman house with a growth chart for baby Eve, soon to celebrate her first birthday; and a faith-based activity book for Gretchyn, 7, Isaac, 6, Hazel, almost 5, and Lukas, 3.
Then there are the prayers. “I know I could always call and ask extra prayers for her,” Stephanie said, pulling out a prayer blanket Krieger had presented Eve on behalf of the parish. “I want that extra faithful person. To me it’s not butting in,” she said when asked whether she feared the ministry might be intrusive. “It’s someone to look up to and to come mentor and help. She’s not coming as a know-it-all.”
“I’m still learning and growing as well,” said Krieger as she played with Eve.
Volunteers aren’t meant to be counselors, said Liedel. “This is the church welcoming them into the community and starting the faith formation of their child.”
“It’s a blessing,” said Bowman, who home-schools her brood and on this particular morning was busy primping her three eldest ready for their dance dress rehearsal. She “absolutely” would recommend the ministry to others.
Husband Robert also appreciates it. “I think it’s really good. It’s nice to know a lot of people care,” said the young father who works for a local stone/paving company. “It’s helpful for families to know there’s a family they can call and ask for help.”
While the ministry has biblical roots, its modern-day application is not new. Liedel said her own mother served in the Confraternity of Christian Mothers in the 1950s. “I’d go with her when she visited mothers and babies.” Many of those relationships matured into friendships.
That recollection coupled with her own daughter’s involvement in a hospital-organized network for new mothers prompted Liedel to search for a way to unite mentoring and faith formation. She discovered the Elizabeth Ministry online and worked to implement it, recruiting volunteers like Krieger.
“It’s very rewarding,” said Krieger, who smiles at the sight of the Bowmans at Holy Childhood on Sundays. “It’s God working in small things,” she said of the opportunity to serve in the ministry. “You don’t have to do anything big and wonderful; it’s just what I have to share. I absolutely love kids.”
Another mentor is prepared to share her experiences with miscarriage if the need arises, said Liedel, who matches volunteers to families. She’d love to have more volunteers in the wings awaiting future births.
Among those births will be the Bowmans’ sixth child, due in December. As with Eve, they will welcome the ministry’s support.
To learn more about the Elizabeth Ministry or to volunteer, call Liedel at 231-526-2017x32, or log onto www.elizabethministry.com/.
By Chris Grosser. Chris is a freelance writer and editor based in Gaylord where she is a parishioner at St. Mary Cathedral. Contact her at email@example.com