ONE of the things Carole Danby’s looking forward to most after many years in children’s ministry is having oodles of time to play.
She can’t wait for all the fun she’ll have in the spare room she’s turning into a special place where she’ll tell stories and play games with her three grandsons, and hopefully help them to know the love of God and Jesus – just as she has helped hundreds of children around Brisbane.
Carole, a project officer with Evangelisation Brisbane who has spent decades nurturing children’s faith, and writing resources for children’s ministry in Brisbane archdiocese and religious instruction programs for state schools, is retiring at the end of this year.
One of the reasons she’s retiring now is to make the best of the time she has before her three grandsons – twins aged two-and-a-half and an 18-month-old – head off to school.
She’s come to realise how important it is for children to begin to learn about God as young as possible.
She said that was one of the things that had kept her motivated in this ministry for so many years.
“Because I absolutely believe that I’m not in control – God’s Holy Spirit is – and that children at very young ages need to be introduced and nurtured,” she said.
“And that’s not ‘you’ve got to go to Mass on Sunday’; that doesn’t do it.
“I know with my own grandchildren; that’s where the nurturing needs to start – right back when they’re little.
“And it could be just a little Sign of the Cross on the forehead when they’re going to sleep – ‘God bless you’ and the Sign of the Cross – nothing big.
“It’s much more, ‘Look at that beautiful flower … Thank you, God, for this beautiful day …’ – just those simple ways in which you raise awareness in children of the transcendent, the invisible.
“All of those techniques I’ve developed over many years, I’m hoping to use with my grandchildren and possibly volunteer to do storytelling in schools.”
Carole draws on lessons she’s learned from her own childhood, and from working with children, families, parishes and schools – Catholic and state.
She’s been one for wondering and searching all the questions of faith from the very beginning.
“I remember coming home from Grade 1 in primary school (Sts Peter and Paul Primary School, Bulimba) and helping Mum make the beds, … I’m the eldest of four children so I was the big girl and I’d just started school, and I came home and I said, ‘Mum, where will Dad go when we all go to Heaven?’,” she said.
“The nuns must’ve said to me or taught us somewhere that Catholics go to Heaven, and I knew Dad wasn’t a Catholic … so I said, ‘Where will Dad go?’
“That worried me the most.
“And Mum said, ‘Do you think the good man that your father is would not be with God when he dies?’
“And I said, ‘Of course he will be …’
“And it just set me on a path … when I look back and reflect on life – when you get to our age, you do that a lot – and thinking, ‘Where are the sparks?’, ‘Where were the places where I could’ve turned away?’ or ‘What were the things that kept me searching and keeping wanting to know more about God and going deeper in faith?’
“And that was the very first answer and, as a result, I never worried about brands after that.
“I never thought, ‘Oh, you’re a Catholic and you’re not …’ or ‘You’re a Protestant …’
“It was people came first, and Mum taught me that – both parents did – that you look at the heart of the person, and that’s what God does too.
“It’s a lovely memory to have.”
Another key moment was making her First Holy Communion at Sts Peter and Paul Church, Bulimba, and what happened after that.
“I can still remember it to this day, remember everything, and it really meant more to me than just the nice dress – loved that – but it was so much about that Jesus was going to live with me, live in me, and I got that even at Grade 3, even at the age of seven,” Carole said.
“And Sr Lucy then entrusted me with looking after the ice-block stall (at school). In Grade 3 I ran the stall, and handed the money over, sold things at lunchtime.
“Then she asked me to go and help her in the church, and she got me to help her lay out vestments for Mass, so I’d get to school and I’d go to the church.
“And she asked me to change the tabernacle veil when the (liturgical) seasons changed colour.
“All of that makes me think that children need to be invited, now need to be given (opportunities) … How young was I? … Seven or eight, and I’m being asked to do things.
“Eventually I spent a lot of my lunch hours, with a whole team of my friends, cleaning the church, dusting, working with the candles.”
Those were the sort of invitations and opportunities “that kept me at least interested”, and they would be just as important for other children and young adults today, she figured.
The invitations kept coming for Carole, like when a Dominican Sister in Carina parish asked her as a young mum to come along to a morning tea that ended in her being recruited as a catechist.
She had thought having one of her two sons still at home as a three-year-old was good enough reason to rule her out but the woman doing the recruiting said, “Take the child with you”.
“Well, I took Michael with me – three-year-old, and I took him into the classroom; he was a well behaved little child,” Carole said.
“And I fell in love, that very first lesson at Carina State School – I think they were Year 3s.
“I went in there and I came out floating, and I knew I’d encountered God.
“I look back now, and realise that’s what it was.
“And I realised, ‘Oh, my God, I love children and I love teaching; I can marry the two here …’
“And so that’s it, and I’m still doing children’s ministry all these years later.”
Then a parish priest invited her into parish ministry which led to her becoming pastoral associate, co-ordinating RCIA, sacramental preparation of children and state school Religious Instruction (RI) over five years.
A call from Brisbane Catholic Education came next with an invitation for her to take on a short-term project to gather information from all the Catholic catechists across the archdiocese.
“I went for six months (initially) and that’s 24 years ago …,” Carole said.
The voluntary effort of a young mother had grown into a passion and a full-time commitment.
And what was at the heart of the passion was the trust “that God is good and God is love and God sustains”.
“Believing in God doesn’t mean that life is easier but it brings wisdom and insight if we look through a lens of God’s love,” Carole said.
“It’s always about this creative God who calls us into a deeper relationship in love and in seeing the world and seeing where the broken Body of Christ is in the world and responding to that and so if we can inspire children to have eyes that it’s not about me, me, me and going in on themselves … (that’s the heart of it).”
Before retiring, Carole’s leaving a final gift for children’s ministry.
It stems from a question that an RI co-ordinator asked her years ago: “If you had to teach children who knew nothing about Jesus, what would be the stories you’d pick? …”
“And I thought, ‘That’s a really good question …’ and that started me writing …,” Carole said.
What she’s come up with is a “very basic” catechetical resource for children.
“It’s really addressing the needs of children who are so removed from faith that we need to almost introduce them to Jesus again,” she said.
“Rather than try and overlay it with a whole lot of theological understandings, I’ve gone back to basics and it’s called ‘Getting to Know Jesus’ – very simple.”
It’s the result of her years working with children and families.
“People are saying that our Catholic kids have not encountered Jesus …,” Carole said.
“My point is that children need to know who this Jesus is first, and if they’ve never heard the stories …, how are they ever going to know who Jesus is, except through a theological (explanation) … and a lot of people saying ‘this is what you have to believe’, or ‘you need to go to Mass …’
“I love the Eucharist but I honestly think children have no idea what it is and many parents don’t, and therefore it doesn’t have any appeal because they haven’t encountered Jesus, they haven’t had that encounter.
“So my resource is hoping that, with a little bit of knowledge about Jesus – this is what Christians believe … this is a story that says this Jesus is worth following (will make a difference), so I’ve tried to keep it really basic.
“It’s absolutely centred on the Bible, and it always comes back to Jesus.
“I have 50 lessons written, and people could use them in parish settings, they could use it in other Christian churches – because I’ve tried to keep the language general – and then Catholics wanted a bit extra, so I’ve written a Catholic Corner, which is just an extra for each lesson that Catholics can use if they want to.”
As retirement day looms what Carole’s looking forward to most though is play time with her grandsons, making good use of her skills in children’s ministry and as a biblical storyteller.
“My spare room is going to be my storytelling room; they love reading books already,” she said.
“I’m going to set up a Godly play – that’s a gold shoe box that I’ve been collecting and I’m going to put in the elements of a story – there’ll be Bible stories but other things too – and they can go to the box and open it up and play with it, and I’ll tell them a story and they can get story books down.
“So I’m just setting up the room as a storytelling space, a Godly-play kind of room … I’m hoping.
“I’ll have as much fun as them, I know.”