Celebrating the ministry of faith formation in parishes
This Sunday, thousands of parishes across the country will begin their catechetical year with the commissioning of all persons involved in the ministry of faith formation. In the past, this would involve a special liturgy, acknowledging those persons teaching in the parish religious education programs, often followed by coffee and … in the parish hall. And so the year began….
Or did it? Over the past few years our bishops have challenged all of us to think differently. This year’s theme for Catechetical Sunday, “Open Wide the Door of Faith,” is a more direct challenge to all of us to “think outside the box” as we continue to form and re-form our parish faith formation ministry. If we really are serious about “Opening Wide the Door of Faith,” we must consider the ramifications of this call.
James Joyce once described the Catholic Church as, “Here comes Everyone….” If this is true, then we must think differently about parish faith formation. In the past, faith formation was commonly understood as involving primarily children, graded, taking place on Sunday morning or after school. With the publication of Catechesi Tradendae in October of 1979, the General Directory for Catechesis, 1997, and the National Directory for Catechesis in 2005, pastors and parish staffs were charged with re-visioning the catechetical ministry in their parishes. These documents urge parish staffs to develop faith formation plans that are holistic, integrated and occurring in all stages of life. In response, many of our parishes have already embraced the challenge to open wide the door of faith and welcome “everyone.” Many parishes have creatively re-fashioned their catechetical ministries to include intergenerational models, inviting all ages to participate in formation events. Realizing the calendar demands on families during the school year, many parishes have begun summer religious education opportunities for children while helping families to integrate faith and family life throughout the year. Respecting the parents’ primary role in their children’s faith formation, some parishes have also begun to offer structured home schooling for families. These are offered along with the traditional classroom option. All of these options exist to help families as they struggle to pass their faith onto their children. With all of this, we still need to reach out to those who are on the edge, our youth, young adults, our maturing adults, and our seniors. How do we help facilitate their continuing formation?
This year, responding to the challenge to open wide the door to faith, pastors, parish staffs, and parish catechetical leaders are invited to embrace the call to look more inclusively at the ministry of faith formation in their parish. All are challenged to look more deliberatively at the way we develop formation opportunities. As the church so often reminds us, faith formation is lifelong. We can no longer assess our parish’s formation ministry by the number of children we have registered in our programs. Rather, we must examine all ways we offer opportunities for formation at all stages of life. As we continue to offer formation opportunities in our parishes, we can only remember Dorothy’s famous quote from The Wizard of Oz, “Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Sister Kathy Burton, SSJ is co-director of Faith and Family Life Formation, Office of Lifelong Faith Formation, Diocese of Camden.