If you are a Parish Catechetical Leader and would like to become better acquainted on the Catechetical Framework for Lifelong Faith Formation, we have a free online course designed to provide you with a basic understanding of the Framework, and how to start its implementation in the parish. To access it, simple click this link and register for the course. You may share this link with catechists also. Please note, this training does not replace the catechetical module “Introduction to the Framework.”
By Amy Auzenne, MSW
DRE, St. Edward Catholic Church
Hey PCLs, I’ve got a great idea.
Starting now, let’s all re-write our parish faith formation curriculums to include the learning targets from the Catechetical Framework for Lifelong Faith Formation. While we’re at it, let’s design a scope and sequence that uses profound, age-appropriate questions to frame those learning targets in a way that is easy for our catechists to use. And let’s all use the same curriculum so that no matter where a family attends in our archdiocese, the content of their religious education will remain consistent. Oh, and let’s get it all done in time to implement in the fall.
Luckily, someone had this bright idea a few years back and beginning in fall 2017, all parishes in the Archdiocese of Galveston Houston will begin to implement a new faith formation curriculum for grades 1-5. As a pilot parish, St. Edward was fortunate to begin using this new curriculum before it was introduced to the archdiocese as a whole.
After two years, we have seen some wonderful results:
- The quality of religious education happening in our classes each week has improved. Students are better able to retain what they are learning from week to week, and from month to month.
- Our catechists are enthusiastic about their ministry. They want to share what they are doing with each other, with their parents, and with the parish.
- Most importantly, the Holy Spirit is at work! We have seen some remarkable “Holy Spirit moments” in our classes as students engage and want to share what they are learning.
I know that many of you are anxious about this new curriculum. You may be feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or even annoyed. You are worried that your catechists will be confused – all this talk about “curriculum” when most of them are not trained as educators. You have questions – does this mean we won’t be using textbooks anymore? (No) Can I still use my favorite books and resources? (Yes) Why me, Lord? (Because He asked, and you said yes.)
The Office of Evangelization and Catechesis has planned a professional development day on March 29th to answer many of these questions. But for now, I wanted to share with you some of the principles that have helped us through the transition at St. Edward:
Principle 1: “Because Jesus”
We’ve all had that day. You know the one. It was that one Confirmation retreat when you found out that those kids had been drinking in their cabin. Or when that one parent cornered you in the parish hall to complain about the requirements for sacrament preparation. Or you had to tell someone that you could not baptize their dog (true story).
Everyone who works in parish catechesis has at some point asked themselves some variation of this question: Why am I doing this? And, if you decide to remain in parish catechesis it will inevitably be because you found some variation of this answer: Because Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the heart and center of everything we do as catechists. The General Directory of Catechesis puts it this way: “The definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch, but also in communion and intimacy, with Jesus Christ.” The goal of the new framework curriculum is to ensure that every program, every class, every interaction intentionally connects our students to the person of Jesus Christ.
Then do this:
- Attend the PCL Professional Development Day on March 29th to learn more about the new curriculum and/or view the informational videos available at catecheticalresources.org How could this new curriculum help your students, parents, and catechists encounter Christ through the faith formation program at your parish?
Principle 2: Go Together
A proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” As PCLs, most of us have at one time or another suffered from Superman / Superwoman disease. Don’t let this be one of those times. Put down the cape!
For this implementation to be successful, you will need a team of people who are excited by and committed to the vision of Christ-centered catechesis at your parish. There are people at your parish who want to help you. Let them.
At St. Edward, we started by offering several “Come and See” events, where parents and catechists could learn more about the new curriculum and ask questions. From those meetings, we were able to identify several catechists that wanted to be part of our implementation team. These “lead catechists” helped by talking to their peers about the new curriculum and sharing their success stories with them.
Then do this:
- Think of your catechetical team. Who seems open to new ideas and willing to try new things? Invite them to be part of a team to help implement the new curriculum at your parish. Be sure to tell them that the goal of the new curriculum is not to “fix” what they are doing wrong; rather, this is a way to expand on their good work by intentionally placing Christ at the center of your ministry.
- With your team, plan and schedule a few events to introduce the new curriculum to parents and catechists. At these meetings, emphasize the things that parents and catechists are already doing well and then explain how this new curriculum can help build on those successes.
Principle 3: Take a Strengths Perspective
As a young married women, I remember confessing to my mother-in-law that I was anxious at the thought of baking my first turkey for Thanksgiving that year. She asked me, “Can you bake a chicken?” Yes, I said. “Then don’t worry about it,” she assured me. “A turkey is just a big chicken.”
In other words – people tend to learn new skills based on what they are already doing well. While this new curriculum is certainly no turkey, it might help your catechists to think of it as just a new way to continue the good work they are already doing.
Then do this:
- During your next prayer time, ask the Holy Spirit to help you name the gifts and graces already present in your program. Then give thanks to God for them!
- At your next catechist meeting, tell your catechists what they are doing well. Together, consider how this new curriculum could help them do those things better.
Principle 4: Empower, Encourage, & Support
To be successful, catechists must understand that they are part of a ministry team. Even the Lord himself chose twelve men to help him accomplish his earthly mission! At St. Edward, we use an email program to send updates, articles, and encouragement to our catechists. We have also used social media to set up a virtual community where catechists can ask questions and share ideas.
Of course, online sharing does not take the place of meeting to pray and learn together. Offering formation that is rich, engaging, and inspiring means that catechists will look forward to these meetings and are more likely to attend. Details such as designing an attractive flyer, setting up a prayerful environment in the room where you are meeting, and personally inviting catechists to attend are just as important as finding a great presenter.
We have had a very good response from our catechists after using the newly redesigned catechist modules. For team-building I especially like the “Vocation of the Catechist” and “Spirituality and Evangelization” modules because they challenge catechists to reflect more deeply on their call to ministry, and encourage them to pray for one another.
Then do this:
- Consider how you can use technology to connect your catechists more effectively. Research your options, then make a plan.
- Consider how you can invite (rather than compel) catechists to attend formation meetings.
- Identify knowledgeable, enthusiastic catechists to serve as mentors. These “lead catechists” can work with their peers to go over lesson plans, collaborate on activities, answer questions, and generally provide moral support.
A Final Thought
“Fill those jars with water,” Jesus ordered, at which they filled them to the brim. “Now,” he said, “Take some out and take it to the waiter in charge.” They did as he instructed them.
We all know how the story of the wedding at Cana ends: the water is turned into choice wine, the guests drink until they are satisfied, and the newly married couple avoid a serious social embarrassment.
To accomplish this miracle, the Lord asked for the help of those who had come to the wedding not as guests, but as servants. Encouraged by the words of the Blessed Mother – “Do whatever he tells you” – they worked together to follow Jesus’ instructions and serve the people.
Imagine if they had responded to Jesus’ requests by saying, “I can’t fill water jars, I am busy taking dinner orders!” or “I would love to help, but I really need to clean the kitchen,” or even, “I don’t need to listen to that guy. I am an experienced servant and I’ve got this whole running-out-of-wine problem figured out.”
As busy PCLs, it is easy to tell ourselves that we are too busy, too overwhelmed, or too even too “important” in the work of our own parishes, to help one another. We all need to be reminded from time to time that we are (in the words of the USCCB) “co-workers in the vineyard of the Lord,” each tending our own vines for the greater good.
This fall, we will all have the opportunity to be reminded of that fact once again. Implementing the new curriculum across the archdiocese will be a huge task, one that is much bigger than any one person. Thanks be to God, we have colleagues at the parish and archdiocesan level who stand ready to help.
Let’s go fill some water jars.