Practical Ideas for Planning Faith Formation 2021-22
As our religious education programs draw to a close in the next few months it is an opportune time to reflect on what we have learned.
The challenges we have faced due to COVID-19 evoked a multitude of wonderful and creative responses that should continue even after we return to in-person catechesis. As new infrastructures were created it is important to explore how they can be integrated into our programs as we move forward.
The following five areas explore our ministry in general and our programs in particular. The goal is to take identifiable fundamental shifts we have seen this past year, address them, and offer concrete suggestions for parish faith formation programs.
Reimagining Catechetical Ministry
Reimagining Catechetical Ministry was necessary due to the challenges presented by Covid, causing us to reexamine the goals and execution of our catechetical ministries. This has been a unique opportunity to step back from, “what we do” to ask the bigger questions of “why we do it, and are there better ways to do it?” In doing so, we have recognized the need for changes in the roles of those serving in catechetical ministry and in implementing a curriculum.
The following adaptations made during the pandemic represent positive infrastructure changes that can be integrated into our programs as we plan for the Fall and simultaneously move us closer to a reimagined catechetical ministry.
The Role of the Family is at the heart of faith formation as it draws us together on a daily basis and plays a fundamental role in living the Catholic faith. As children and their parents were brought together in new ways, we can continue to strengthen family faith formation efforts in the following manner below:
- Be aware that most parents will need direction, guidance, and assistance in teaching their children about the Catholic faith.
- Embrace an adult faith formation approach to guiding parents by focusing on their understanding of the basic elements of Catholicism. (i.e. prayers, rituals, Sign of the Cross, and providing blessed sacramentals such as crucifix, holy water, rosary, along with historical and current information)
- Draw families into the catechesis of the liturgical year by providing “fact sheets”, crafts, and reflections on each liturgical season.
- Encourage participation in the Corporal Works of Mercy to show selfless love as the heart of discipleship.
The Role of the Catechetical Leader has changed from being predominantly programmatic to being more pastoral as they provide care and empathy. With being pastoral as the main focus, catechetical leaders journeyed with faith formation families by checking in with them, caring about their struggles, and supporting them. Forming such relationships with parents, who need to be at the center of our programs, catechetical leaders can design processes that specifically empower and guide parents, rather than stress them out with unnecessary program requirements.
While there is still responsibility to plan and manage an in-person faith formation program, the catechetical leader’s role is also changing in the area of new technology. Considerations for embracing this changing role include:
- Make a conscious effort to ensure that families are accompanied. (i.e. check in with parents to assure they are not feeling disconnected from the parish community)
- Don’t do it alone. (i.e. collaborate with pastors, parents, and catechists to identify needs and opportunities in the faith formation program)
- Provide detailed guidelines for the parents. (i.e. explore publisher’s online tools and select one to implement in classrooms (if equipped) and at home)
- Integrate technology. (i.e. provide “how-to” videos for parents to include step-by-step instructions and snapshots about technology and materials)
- Eliminate obstacles to access technology. (i.e. use the same technology the children are using in school, it will be on their home computers)
- Balance instruction with technology. (i.e. include YouTube or other video software to solidify the Church’s teachings and promote discussion between parents and their children)
The Role of the Catechist has also changed from being a classroom instructor to a companion who provides support and encouragement while facilitating learning environments that explore the program’s curriculum. Managing these changing expectations include:
- Articulating clear expectations of students and parents for participating in the faith formation program.
- Finding ways for catechists to support parents as they work one-on-one with their children.
- Providing opportunities for classroom and online prayer with students and families, such as praying a decade of the rosary or praying with Scripture in the classroom or online with families, and modeling how to discuss and reflect the passage.
- Fostering a sense of community by creating opportunities for engagement that minimizes passive reception. For example, invite whoever is present to share experiences, thoughts, and ask questions.
The Role of the Curriculum has shifted in its focus. Adhering to a strictly school-like model can be prohibitive as the curriculum struggles to maintain the connection that was once available to in-person gatherings. Consequently, de-emphasizing the traditional school-like curriculum moves us from solely a cognitive curriculum to the core mission of evangelization which necessitates a relationship with Christ and accompaniment along the path of discipleship. Ideas for using a publisher’s curriculum and the Diocese of Rockford Curriculum Guidelines include:
- Realize that gatherings of children and their parents are much more than a classroom.
- Re-evaluate the program priorities to emphasize prayer, relationships, and forming disciples.
- With evangelization in mind, make the lesson as simple as possible for everyone by focusing on the basics of the Catholic faith.
- Explore and deepen what is being taught by using new and different tools for instruction.
The Role of the Pastor in the process of faith formation this year has provided many blessings to the catechetical efforts of the parish. We have seen an explosion of creative ministry from pastors that included the following:
- More involvement in the parish’s catechetical efforts through planning, teaching, and witnessing.
- Filming messages of hope and explanations of the Church’s teachings.
- Recording or live streaming presentations for the faith formation program.
- Leading some of the virtual faith formation sessions.
- More time to talk with youth who will be receiving the sacraments.
- Suggesting creative use of pre-recorded videos and live streaming of prominent theologians.
Planning Religious Education Programs
Planning Religious Education Programs has shown us that the fabric of a Religious Education program is the combination of relational, instructional, and faith dynamics that are embedded within the complexity of community building within a virtual format.
The traditional classroom instruction is often structured around the school model. As such, the tendency is to focus on the transfer of information and not on evangelization and the conversion of hearts. Catechesis should not be viewed as a condition for receiving a sacrament, but rather making sense of an unfolding relationship with God and the Church. Suggestions for balancing the transfer of information with the process of evangelization include:
- Develop a faith formation model for blended or virtual gatherings that liberates rather than restricts the faith formation of children and parents.
- Develop a faith formation model based on personal experiences of receiving and responding to faith, internalizing the liturgy, reflective of mercy and love, and the teaching style of Jesus, the Master Teacher.
- Engage families and students through online resources, such as Flipgrid, YouTube, Kahoot Review, Scavenger Hunt, and Nearpod.
- Provide regular communication with parents, even meeting with them online.
- Hold virtual catechist meetings.
Sacramental Preparation has shown us many different formats that combine in-person and virtual gatherings that have influenced the preparation for First Reconciliation, First Communion, and Confirmation. Helpful tips for preparing for the sacraments include:
- It is important to trust the Holy Spirit, as the power of the Sacraments comes from God, not from the completion of a program.
- Sacramental preparation classes can be enhanced by the use of virtual resources.
- Offer assistance in preparing the family for the sacramental event and engage the parish community in prayer for those receiving sacraments in the parish.
- Consider virtual classes and events for Confirmation when students and sponsors are unable to attend together.
- Encourage teens to create and share videos as part of their preparation for Confirmation.
Youth Ministry experienced limited opportunities for youth ministers to offer programming due to the restrictions on in-person meetings this past year. Creative responses that can be utilized when we regather for in-person programming include the following:
- Consistent Presence – i.e. have weekly communication with youth and create a structure for regularly scheduled meetings held at the same date, time, and intervals.
- Shared Planning – i.e. collaborate with teens in selecting topics of discussion, bringing in pastoral support to facilitate discussions, and including teens in the planning process.
- Pastoral Focus – i.e. encourage different ways of reaching out to teens to help them feel more connected.
- Be Creative in Programming – i.e. find virtual games online as there are a vast array to select from.
- Invite Back to Community. i.e. explore service opportunities at the parish and in the local community, and keep teens visible to the parishioners by involving them in the liturgy, service needs, and fundraising events.
The Community of Parishes
The Community of Parishes and the Religious Education Office had to rely on one another in new ways. During this past year these intra-diocesan relationships have been tremendously valuable. We have found new and creative ways to gather in order to support one another, and share resources and ideas. Because of our common mission, we should continue the following:
Professional Relationships were changing as catechetical leaders sought assistance from one another outside of our traditional gathered times to support them in many of the circumstances already stated. In responding to this need, new ways of providing resources and support to one another were developed and should continue.
- Provide Regional gatherings in addition to Deanery meetings.
- Share professional resources through the new Facebook Group Forum prepared exclusively for catechetical leaders to network with one another.
- Expand the vision of catechesis and the mission of our faith formation program beyond the parish walls.
Catechist Formation adapted its goal of providing formation classes, because social distancing requirements made it difficult to gather in large groups. Even after maximum occupancy restrictions subside, we can effectively make use of the new platforms for formation opportunities that were created. They include:
- Integrating virtual classes and events that allow us to receive formation even when participants are separated by geographic distance or time availability.
- Developing diocesan training videos for the catechist certification program, required and elective classes.
- Providing an invitation and platform for publishers to offer training, textbooks, activities, assessments, and webinars for viewing.
Community of Colleagues was an unintended outcome as the year progressed. Many Catechetical Leaders developed genuine friendships with other parish C/DREs whom they did not always have the opportunity to be with, along with members of the Catholic Education Office. Opportunities we see for this community building include:
- Fostering more cross-deanery collaboration.
- Pooling resources and talent for special projects.
- Sharing events among parishes.
- Increasing dialogue on programming, ministerial vision, and dreaming.
- Supporting one another spiritually, emotionally, and mentally as catechetical ministers.