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Interview: Katharine Hill, UK director, Care for the Family

16 February 2018

‘Many parents feel they should be talking to their children about God, but don’t know where to start’


I used to be a family lawyer and saw, day in and day out, the pain of family breakdown. I had a career break when our four children were born, and then I was given the opportunity to work for Care for the Family.


Now I play my part working upstream in the area of prevention, seeking to strengthen families and equip them to deal with the issues before troubles come. We were founded 30 years ago by Rob Parsons to provide parenting-, relationship-, and bereavement-support.


We focus primarily on preventative early help, based on emotional well-being.


We’re motivated by Christian compassion, which means that, at a strategic level, we pray and ask for God’s guidance on all our projects. His direction and leading helped us to provide timely resources over the years. We also listen to those contacting us for help, and see how we can fill the gaps in support that isn’t provided elsewhere. We ensure that we’re up to date with current social research and concerns, and work with others like the Relationship Alliance, the Centre for Social Justice, and the Marriage Foundation.


We’ve received a little government help over the years, and donors have generously provided for specific projects; but most of our funding comes from thousands of partners’ regular monthly donations.


Our resources mainly reach families through a great team of volunteers. Events are often hosted by local churches; so we equip them with materials to reach out to the local community to give practical, values-based support for families.


The Kitchen Table Project is a growing movement of parents’ learning from each other and sharing ideas to inspire faith in our homes. Some research estimated that just 50 per cent of children in Christian homes will keep their faith as adults. What many people don’t realise is that parents are the most important influence on children developing lasting faith (Comment, 12 January).


Most Christians want their children to enjoy a personal relationship with God, but they aren’t confident that they’re doing the things that will inspire that. Many parents feel they should be talking to their children about God, but don’t know where to start, or how to fit it in to busy schedules.


The professionalisation of children’s work — many churches are fortunate enough to have paid children and youth workers — means there’s an unspoken assumption that it’s their job to nurture faith in children. But, however amazing their work is, children need to understand that faith is part of everything we do, not just for Sundays. Parents and carers have the opportunity to live out their faith and show their children how it works in practice.


There’s the everyday things of praying with children, reading Bible stories, taking them to church; but also being vulnerable, and being transparent with them about what God is doing in our lives. I had a little nephew born prematurely, and, though we prayed that he would live, he did die. Being open with our children about our grief doesn’t mean we can’t also trust God. So it’s about sharing our joys and troubles, enabling them to see how God answers prayers.


People are increasingly articulate about expressing their emotions, whereas maybe past generations were more private; so we’re riding a wave.


We hope to reach as many parents as we can with the Kitchen Table Project, but especially parents who have never really thought about their role in building faith in their children, or who need help starting out. Organisations like the Bible Reading Fellowship and New Wine are also interested, and we want to work together to see the next generation having a real living faith as adults.


Modern culture has changed the whole sense of family; so traditional ways of being family have also changed. Even sitting round the table for dinner isn’t as common as it used to be; so it’s no surprise that talking about faith at home has also dropped off the agenda. Parents can often think that nurturing faith at home is just about sitting down and reading the Bible, or praying together — which is important, but there’s so much more.


Last year, we did some qualitative research about faith in the home. A church leader said: “It strikes me that there’s no single occasion in the year where I have the opportunity to speak to parents directly about their parenting, and yet it’s such an important issue.”


There are lots of demands on families, like homework or extra-curricular activities, and many parents, understandably, don’t want their children to miss out. Often, parents are working outside the home, which also limits the time available to do everything else. But one of the key messages about spiritual nurture at home is that it’s about finding God in the everyday things that families are already doing. So, when you’re walking or driving to school, you can ask God to help you, and include God in the conversations. When you see a rainbow you can drop in a small reminder: “Look at that — isn’t God amazing!” We can be intentional in pointing our children to their Father in heaven in the midst of the busyness of family life.


We haven’t deliberately segregated people, but in our desire to cater well for the individual needs and interests of different generations, we’ve ended up offering separate provision for older and younger people. The Church is in a great position to champion the value of encouraging different generations to mix and learn from each other.


My parents brought us up to go to church, prayed with us at night, and prayed themselves. I can’t remember a day when I didn’t believe in God, though it wasn’t until university that I discovered a real living faith rather than one that was just about doing the right thing and following rules.


My father, who died on Christmas Day, aged 100, had a huge influence on my life. He had a quiet faith that spoke volumes. I remember, as a child, walking past my parents’ room at night and seeing him praying.


When I’m not working, I enjoy coffee in my favourite café, either by myself or with good friends.


My favourite sound is waves crashing against the beach.

I pray most for my four children — and now also two daughters-in-law and one son-in-law.


Social injustice makes me angry: that many of the advantages of family life aren’t available for the poorest in society.


Seeing people overcome obstacles and achieve their potential makes me happy.


I certainly have hope for the future. The next generation are so often passionate, radical, and courageous in the way they live. And we can trust a faithful God who keeps his promises.


I would like to be locked in a church with Christine and Peggy Smith. Pete Greig tells their story in his book Dirty Glory, and we visited their village of Barvas on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides last spring. It was their prayers about the lack of young people in their church in 1949 which sparked the Hebridean revival. I’d love to talk to them about their experience of those days.


Katharine Hill was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

The Kitchen Table Project was launched in Cardiff on 20 January.

Raising Faith, written with Andy Frost, will be published at the end of March.


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