According to plan

  • Written by Jean Parietti
  • Published in NW Stories
2013 NFP promotion poster from the USCCB. 2013 NFP promotion poster from the USCCB.

New ministry at St. Thomas Aquinas focuses on natural family planning

CAMAS - Denise and Drew Swanson have eight children, and not one of them was a surprise.

The Swansons, members of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish, use natural family planning to follow church teaching about marriage, openness to new life and responsible parenthood. Although their family is large, that isn’t a given when using NFP.

If a couple discerns it’s not the right time for a baby, or thinks they’re done having children, “all the church asks is that they use a form of natural family planning,” Denise Swanson said.

Now the Swansons are among six parishioners — four women and two men, including a doctor — who were trained recently in the Billings Ovulation Method for a new NFP apostolate at St. Thomas. The women are helping other women learn to chart their fertility signs each month so they can achieve or avoid pregnancy naturally. Like other modern NFP methods, Billings is science-based, relies on periodic abstinence and can be 97-99 percent effective.

The new ministry is an important part of parish life, providing education and formation, not just about the Billings method, “but on the larger invitation and way of life which Christ invites married couples to,” Father Matthew Oakland, priest administrator at St. Thomas, said in an email.

When the new ministry was rolled out to the parish last fall, “I spent three weeks [at Mass] preaching on marriage, contraception and natural family planning,” Father Oakland said. One of the new instructors spoke at Mass about her personal experience with NFP.  There were bulletin inserts and adult faith formation sessions dedicated to NFP, including an overview of Billings by the parish instructors. Drew Swanson, who also is one of the parish’s faith formation pastoral assistants, gave a short talk for the men in attendance.After Father Oakland arrived at St. Thomas in 2011, several people asked him about starting an NFP ministry, he said. After a process of identifying potential instructors and choosing an NFP method, the parish budgeted money to bring trainers to the parish last summer.

“By having these trained mentors, it is not just the priest teaching, but also these individuals who are striving to live according to the commands of Christ — and that is always a powerful witness,” Father Oakland said.

At St. Thomas, those interested in learning the Billings method have run the gamut — a young woman preparing for her wedding, women entering menopause, a couple having difficulty conceiving (they were successful two months after they began charting). Even some single women looking to the future have been interested in learning about NFP, Denise Swanson said.

Now the parish is sending letters to all pastors in the Southern Deanery, letting them know the St. Thomas instructors are available for group presentations and individual sessions at other parishes.

“We want people to understand there’s very good positive resources out there that can truly help couples plan their families, that are within moral bounds of the church and can bring increased holiness,” Drew Swanson said.

Learn more

For more information about the St. Thomas Aquinas NFP apostolate, contact Denise Swanson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For a variety of NFP resources, including a list of instructors in the archdiocese, visit www.seattlearchdiocese.org/NFP.

To learn more about natural family planning and read the stories of couples who are using NFP, check out the March issue of Northwest Catholic magazine. 

February 28, 2014