“Ask a Priest: Should I Let My Teen Attend an Evangelical Service?”

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Q: My 13-year-old daughter has a friend who is an evangelical Christian, and this friend has invited her to her church. My question is whether that’s a sin, since we are Catholics. – Y.F.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: It’s probably no sin that the friend extended the invitation. What you want to discern is whether the invitation is a gesture of friendship or an attempt at recruitment – or both.

Letting your daughter go to experience an evangelical service wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but she should not go unprepared.

A 13-year-old is at a very impressionable age and could easily fall into the error of thinking that one group that expresses Christian beliefs is as good as another, especially if Mom is giving her the green light to attend non-Catholic services.

So, it would be good to establish ground rules and points for your daughter to keep in mind.

First, it’s important that she realize not all Christian denominations are equal, and they aren’t on the same level as the Catholic Church, which has all the means of sanctification and truth entrusted to the apostles by Our Lord.

Protestant and evangelical denominations only have part of those means. Evangelicals, for instance, have Scripture and worship services, but they don’t have the Eucharist. Your daughter’s attendance at an evangelical service wouldn’t free her from her obligation of attending Sunday Mass.

What would be better would be for your daughter to invite her friend to a Mass, though letting her know ahead of time that the friend can’t receive Communion.

If your daughter goes to the evangelical service and feels pressured to switch to her friend’s denomination, or if your daughter senses the Catholic Church being attacked, she should be able to leave immediately and shouldn’t return to that group’s services.

Before attending, your daughter could promise that if she experiences anything that causes her to question the Catholic faith, she will bring it up with you so that there can be a discussion at home.

With these ground rules, the visit to the evangelical service could be an experience that strengthens her faith.

But even then, you might not want the attendance at non-Catholic services to become a habit with her.

Perhaps some of this is worth taking to prayer. I hope you choose wisely.

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  1. Thirteen year old’s are not as yet fully mature in the understanding of faith and ‘faith practices’ to see the significant differences between a ‘meeting for prayer only’ and the ‘faith in practice’ aka religious discipline of the Sacramental life. This is a ‘touchy’ situation for a Christian parent in the Catholic discipline. One can’t ‘put down’ that which this Evangelical friend is about; who was only raised in that Evangelical ‘scripture alone’ way.

    My approach would be to invite this Evangelical family (mom and dad and child or children) to a backyard barbecue or a picnic at a picnic resort to ‘get fully acquainted’ . . . pray together as Christians, and ‘gently’ speak of one’s faith in practice as Christians of the Catholic tradition. Grace before the meal (see if these Evangelicals say anything with regards how one prays before a meal) DO NOT necessarily leap to defend one’s sell. Let their daughter take note of how the Envangelicals accept or do not accept differences. By how they are, one can then ‘after they leave’ discuss their ways with the daughter (without condemning them) if the daughter is in a faithful Catholic home and respects her good Catholic parents, she will ‘naturally’ get the message that the invite to attend an Evangelical prayer service MIGHT be to pull her from her good upbringing. In other words, invite this whole family to a backyard barbecue or house dinner and let them show ‘how Christian’ they are. Not a word need be said by the Catholic parents… THEN have the discussion with the daughter with regards ‘the differences of faith in practice.’

  2. Let the daughter see FAITH in God and the virtues of such ‘in practical, every day good action’ without any defense of Christian living in Catholic tradition of the Sacramental presence taken in on Sunday. if these Evangelicals ‘accept’ differences or begin ‘berating’ at the table (subtly or bluntly in an arrogant manner) it will be a lot easier to explain to the 13 year old that the invite to a prayer service on Sunday MIGHT have hidden motivations and agenda. We can socialize with them, the parents can say, and your friend is welcome in our house in which we honor God and all with God. Then explain, we feel it is better that before you attend their services, you come to a better understanding that you can put to words to your friend of how the Sacraments are important. Ask your friend if she (and her parents) to attend Mass with us., and let me know what your friend says. If they are hesitant, then … well then the parent should explain that this friend is trying to pull you from one pasture to their pasture… under the ‘guise’ of Christian friendship.

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