Photos by Alan M. Dumoff
What do you do when you have 800 children and only eight classrooms?
How do you schedule formation classes around extra-curricular activities?
How do you get parents more involved in their children’s faith formation?
On Nov. 6, over 100 parish catechetical leaders, catechists, school principals and religion teachers met to discover the creative ways four Parish Catechetical Leaders stepped “out of the box,” engaged their imaginations, and attempted to solve these dilemmas by developing vibrant, intergenerational models of faith formation.
Using the direction outlined by the National Directory for Catechesis (NDC) published by the United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB), their religion textbook series, and a variety of other approved catechetical resources, these catechetical leaders created various models of faith formation engaging, not only the children and their families, but the entire parish community.
Aware of the many demands placed on families today, these models engage families where they are, not where we would like them to be. Allowing families to choose the model of formation that best fits their situation invites them into more active participation in their child’s faith development. Each of the models presented clearly illustrates and embraces the understanding that “parents are the most influential agents of catechesis for their children….” (CCC).
Prof. Tom Groome from Boston College describes the role parents play in the weekly religious education classes as minimal when he says, “Parents drop their children off for CCD and return to pick up Catholics….”
The models presented on Nov. 6 clearly dispel that myth, providing an atmosphere for parents to participate fully in their child’s faith formation.
Nov. 6 affirmed for parish/school catechetical leaders that alternative models of catechesis can be utilized effectively without compromising the proclamation of the Gospel. Developing these models creates a much broader understanding of the catechetical ministry by including entire households, strengthening the “domestic church.”
A model for whole community catechesis began the day. Anita MacDonald from Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Vineland explained the many faceted Generations of Faith program she uses. Here the entire family is invited to participate in catechetical sessions. Each session provides time for prayer, generational catechesis and opportunities for all ages to share faith with one another. Families are sent home with activities they can do in the home, strengthening their understanding of domestic church.
Patricia Patterson, from St. Clare of Assisi in Gibbstown, outlined an inclusive family based model where the parents take on the role as primary catechist. Here the parish supports the parents by offering them opportunities for their own faith formation. Parents are invited to sessions that help them deepen their understanding of the faith as well as the role of a catechist. Equipped with these tools, assured of support by the parish staff, and participation in parish community events, this approach provides a strong support for these families and they strive to deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ.
Maryann Exler, from St. Charles Borromeo in Sicklerville, introduced the group to an immersion model of faith formation that begins in the summer. Children in all grade levels have the opportunity to be immersed in the life of the church. Beginning each day with Eucharist, the participants attend regular catechetical classes, experience various forms of prayer and ritual, and have an opportunity to build community through various activities. This model doesn’t end with a week or two of classes, but rather is extended throughout the year. The summer months are just for the young people. Families are invited and encouraged to participate in a variety of intergenerational parish events that are scheduled from September to June. Here, the families experience community, formation in the life of the church, and opportunities for service in the parish and the community.
Clare McNamee, from Church of the Holy Family in Sewell, offered a successful model for confirmation catechesis she calls Hearts a Fire. The model used here is the model for the baptismal Catechumenate. Those requesting confirmation are engaged in immediate formation for receiving the sacrament. At the same time their parents are offered a series of formation opportunities. After the sacrament is conferred, the students begin the period of mystagogy. They spend the next two years “breaking open” the Gifts of the Spirit received through the sacrament. These formation sessions provide the connection with what they have “learned” and how they will live it.
Sister Kathleen Burton, SSJ, and Mary Lou Hughes are co-directors, Faith and Family Life Formation, Diocese of Camden.