icon of Christ

“And they devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching, the communal Life, the breaking of the bread and prayers.” ~ Acts 2:42

 

In the beginning, I presumed as a DRE that the best way for catechists to cover lessons over the course of a year was to have them go in chapter order. The publishers must know and have a reason for the order the chapters are in right?  Over the years I’ve rethought this idea and discerned a few things I’d like to share about chapters and what is important to cover during the year.

1. It is important that catechists know what is to be covered each week.  A “whatever the Holy Spirit leads me to talk about” is not what is best, although occurring occasionally.  It is important as a DRE to set out what your grade level catechists will be cover over the course of the year.

Dr. believes more is better

2. I have to get through all the chapters in the book right?  More is not better.  Our aim as catechists is to lead our students into a greater understanding of the deposit of faith that has been given to us and through a greater understanding of what we believe students are brought into a deeper union, a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.  We should strive to help students encounter Christ, to actually meet Jesus.  We know that this does not merely happen by getting all the “information” taught.  There needs to be a “dynamism” that both proclaims the truths of the Gospel Message as well as fostering this encounter with Jesus Christ.

3. The Acts 2:42 quote communicates the 4 dimensions of our Faith – the Faith Professed, Celebrated, Lived and Prayed.  These four dimensions should not only be covered individually but more importantly they need to be an integrated whole and seen as unifying the Faith to be in harmony and not just merely a bunch of individual truths.  I wrote a brief blog post on this a little while back entitled Teaching the 4 Dimensions of the Christian Life.  Our Lessons should reflect this reality even when the textbook doesn’t always provide this unity.

4. Classroom Lessons should be uniform.  If you have two classes of say 2nd grade it’s important that essentially the same thing is covered and not something drastically different (this week class A talked about the parts of the Mass and class B watched the Br. Francis “Bread of Life” DVD).  Both of these are all well and good, however it’s important that a program is able to assign lessons the program will focus on during the course of each year.  This does not mean that catechist A has to do the exact same thing as catechist B, however it does mean that they should both meet the same set of objectives or outcomes for that particular lesson.

 

In Summary, DRE’s will benefit greatly in establishing specific weekly lessons for each grade so parents and catechists know what is expected of them to cover.  This helps students both know more about the life of Christ and His Church and most importantly foster a desire in each student to meet Jesus and encounter Him (with all that that entails).

 

Holy Spirit Come

 

 


over hereMany new DRE’s that I have known either have a degree in theology but have not had much practical experience as they enter into parish ministry or they have been asked by their pastor to take on this position but have not had much catechetical training or theology.  I would like to begin a series to new DRE’s/CRE’s about what to consider as you begin your endeavor of directing and coordinating the ministry of Catechesis in your parish.

#1: Take your Time

Too often I’ve seen DRE/CRE’s begin to make too many changes too quickly.  Each one of us has gifts and talents that can really help impact the parish programs of Religious Education of children, teens and adults.  And many new ideas and changes that one wants to make are good.  However, my cautionary note is to be careful when making changes.  I want to give you 3 things I have had to learn at a new parish:

1) Listen to those who have been around longer than you and carefully discern the wisdom they have even if you don’t agree with some of their ideas.  This can cause great frustration and division if one does not prudently and slowly make changes.

2) Find out what makes those around you tick.  This really helps you understand why catechists, fellow staff, and/or parishioners feel strongly about how things are currently done.

3) To keep morale up be positive about what others around you are doing.  Granted you may not love everything they are doing but let them know that you believe that together God is going to use you and them to do something wonderful.

 

What tip do you have for new DRE/CRE’s?unlock


girl pointingI had the wonderful opportunity the last 5 days to attend the St. John Bosco Catechetical Conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH.  There were many blessings and a lot I want to share in future posts about catechesis today in the Church.  Today, I want to share with you a very inspiring story told by a Salesian of Don Bosco who spoke at the conference, Fr. Louis Molinelli, SDB.  He shared the following:

One day I had a meeting with other presidents of schools and had to go to a place I had not been to before.  After driving around for what felt like ages I found a building that I thought was the place (not realizing there were two Sacred Heart Schools).  As I went into the school I saw loads of children and had no idea where to go.  A young girl about 5 years old came up to me and said, hello, can I help you?  I said, yes you can; would you please take me to the one in charge?  The girl said, yes, come with me and she took my hand and lead me down a long hallway past many classrooms until finally we entered a room where she pointed to the front and said their, He’s in charge: she was pointing to Jesus in the tabernacle.

This is a touching story which drew my thoughts to how important it is to point to Jesus in our catechesis and lead others to Him.  Not only are we showing them the one who is in charge but we are helping others grow spiritually.

3 Ways

Here are 3 things to consider in leading others to Jesus Christ:

1. Are you praying each time you prepare to lead catechetical sessions for the Holy Spirit to use you and to speak to the hearts of those you are catechizing?

2. Are you trying to cover the topic at the cost of drawing them into a deeper relationship with Jesus?  Our catechesis can too often be informational without being transformational.

3. Are you helping those you catechize to grow in prayer and helping them be in friendship with God.  Each of us need to use our God given gifts to help others grow in their spiritual lives.

The Big Question

Can you take me to the one in charge?


What can catechists resolve to do to begin this new year?  Even though it is not a “new year” in terms of programming, it is worth reflecting on what you can do to begin this year, 2013, anew.

Consider the following:

1. Resolve to daily pray for the students in your class and/or in your program.

2. Find ways to improve what you began at the beginning of the year (that could be fostering fellowship among the catechists, helping your students encounter different ways to pray, it could be collaborating more with fellow catechists, or maybe it’s making sure you take that time to prepare well for each class.

3. Resolve to cultivate your class/group of students/adults.  The more others know that you care and want to do your best to meet their needs the more they will feel a part of a faith filled parish community.

4. Take a few moments and recommit to what you began in August/September.  Being a catechist is more than a volunteer position, it is an apostolate where one is called to authentically pass on the Catholic Faith.  What a gift and a responsibility that God has called you to.  Make the second half of the year and the beginning of a new calendar year a blessed one!

What are your plans for the new year?


Over the last two weeks I’ve been collecting evaluations and having meetings about how things went this year.  I praise God for the many blessings from the year – how God worked through the little interactions with families, parents, kids and catechists and how He used teachable moments in the classroom, during our times of music, stations of the cross, reconciliation, etc.  Christ desires to draw us closer to Himself and I am grateful for the opportunity to reflect on the many gifts and blessings (seen and unseen) that occurred this year.

Reflecting and evaluating upon what can be improved in the future is also important.  The landscape of Religious Education is rapidly changing in many respects and if we don’t consider what we need to do to continually help our families and students grow in a way where they will come to know the Gospel more fully in order that their lives can be transformed.  Reaching out to parents and children who are over-scheduled, consumed with noise and distractions limiting their ability to seek God and encounter Him is a constant challenge.

Here are some things I’ve been reflecting upon:

1) How can catechists be trained so that they can seize the opportunities they have to draw students out of their busy world and give them the one thing that satisfies – Jesus Christ?

2) Are the resources we are providing catechists helping them to authentically pass on the faith and engage kids?

3) What tools and resources can be provided so as to help engage children more fully.

4) How can we involve parents more and help them be the primary educators of their children’s faith?  We don’t want to be a program where parents “outsource” faith formation to us.  We want to be a bridge and collaborate with them in order that they may be more empowered to pass on the faith to their children.

How about you?

What have you been reflecting at the end of your religious education year?


New Program

I’m very excited about a new program our parish began in September called Family Formation.  This program originated at a parish in Ham Lake, Minnesota and is now in over 80 parishes throughout the United States.  The pastor at Church of St. Paul realized about 20 years ago the need to help parents actually be the primary educators of their children’s faith lives.  The pastor spoke of how parents were teaching their kids (by their example) that its ok to just drop their kids off at CCD and let the parish take care of their religious education and then pick them up once they were done for the week.  It was teaching kids that once I become a parent I don’t have to learn about my faith anymore.  Family Formation involves the parents in the faith formation of their children.  It is a very exciting program where kids comes once a month and learn as well as the parents (in a separate learning space) and then parents are given home lessons to complete for the remaining 3 weeks of the month.

Humble Beginnings

When I first thought about bringing Family Formation to my parish I thought I’d have humble beginnings.  I prayed a Novena to St. Joseph and asked that if it was God’s will for us to begin this program then it would happen.  I had an informational meeting where about 30 people showed up and about 20 or so seemed pretty interested in doing it so went forward and prepared to bring Family Formation to my parish.  I hoped to have about 20 kids in the program.  I had no idea that by August I would have 175 kids registered and over 100 families.  I was amazed and I actually had to close registration because my classrooms were full and I could only find so many catechists and only had so much space.

God’s Work

I am very excited and nervous at the same time about this new program.  We still have other programs going on at our parish (a traditional religious education program and an alternative summer program).  I believe that God will do great things in these families lives as they give Him permission and as they seek to actively be engaged in the faith formation of their children on a new level.

 

To find out more info go to familyformationblog.net.

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Curriculum

Last night we had our 7th grade catechists gather for our In-Service.  We rolled out a new vision and curriculum.  There was great excitement about it all. 

Toward the end of last year’s religious education program we decided we needed our middle school program to look different from what religious education students were use to going to from K-6 grade.  By middle school we want to avoid a mentality of “this is the same old thing every year”.  Yes, we want them to continue to grow in their knowledge of faith, but more importantly we want them to be formed in their faith and able to witness to it in their everyday lives.  Not to mention the need to do it in a way that engages them and keeps them guessing what is going to happen next.  While, we are not professional entertainers nor experts in engaging middle schoolers, we wanted to create a curriculum that draws them into the Scriptures as well as how it relates to their current lives.


Nuts and Bolts

Our curriculum aims to cover the key aspects of Salvation History through the 6 major covenants (5 in the Old Testament and 1 in the New).  We will be covering the key aspects through the following method:

1) We will spend between 30 to 45 minutes each week cover the topic of the day.

2) Students then will switch classes (each class has what we call a “team class”) and cover either “practical application” or “spotlight”.  After 25 to 30 minutes of that they switch again and cover whatever they did not cover in the previous 25-30 minutes.  Practical Application seeks to make application of the topic and help them respond to it.  Spotlight aims to highlight something via a video, a testimony or activity that assists students in further applying and understanding how the topic affects and relates to them.

3) At times we will not have them switch but we will gather all the students together (e.g. gather in the church for a prayer/blessing or watch a video as a whole group.  

Engaging Middle Schoolers 

We are very excited about this new program and last night our catechists and aides responded very positively and with enthusiasm about this new curriculum.  We currently have 4 lessons created and are working on developing the other lessons.  It’s a time-consuming process since there does not really exist a program out their that covers salvation history for middle schoolers and engages them.  There are textbooks that cover the Bible but not in a way that is less classroom presentation style.  We are looking to be less textbook driven and more engaging as our students gather.  There will be a component of presenting material while not relying on a textbook.

Please say a pray for our endeavor and let me know if you’d like me to share more.   


religious ed iconSummer Program Underway

So far our first week of Summer School of Religion (Religious Education) is going very well.  Along with covering about 8-9 chapters so far this week (after 3 days of classes) students have had the opportunity to go to a music session on Monday and Tuesday, visit with one of our priests for a Q & A session, and attend a church tour.  Other exciting things coming up this week are a field trip for 6th graders on Thursday and 4th graders on Friday and one for 5th graders next Wednesday.  They will also attend Stations of the Cross on Friday and more times for music on Friday and a couple of times next week.  Students will also have an opportunity to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation next week as well as a living saints museum.

Challenges of a Two Week Program

First, it is important to note that no program is perfect.  Parents are the primary educators and what we do in our religious education program is in conjunction and in partnership with what should be done within the family.  Families should be living the Faith, talking about the Faith and sharing the Faith on a daily basis.

Our intensive two week program is the only one of its kind in our metro area.  Many parishes practically loathe the fact that we offer such a program and others love the idea but do not have the support they need from their pastor.  Many at our own parish believe it is merely a way to “get it out of the way”.   Yes, there is the potential for parents to sign up their busy child(ren) for two weeks in the summer so they don’t have to make the time for religious formation classes during the year.  However, that does not mean they are not learning and growing during the year.  We hope and pray at a minimum they are attending Mass weekly (but this is also a problem with some parents who have their children attending during the year).  Another challenge is that the great things children learn during the two weeks are not spoken or thought of 3 months later.  For example, the lesson on the Works of Mercy is forgotten about and kids forget to apply the collection they are participating in their schools or the things they are doing during the year with the Works of Mercy that they learned about in July.  Another challenge I find is that the liturgical year is not able to be celebrated in the same way in a two week period as it is from September to May.  Catechists are able to focus on so many aspects of the faith within the context of the liturgical seasons during the year, but not as much in the summer – it’s a little more abstract.  It’s challenge to talk about Advent in July when they won’t celebrate it for another 5 months.

Advantages

I believe I shared in Part I is that our program is 9:00 AM to 12:30 PM.  Most if not all of these students are not in any other educational program during these two weeks and are only focusing on their religious education.  It is very challenging during the year when kids have been at school all day and they are tired and worn out when they come to religious education in the evenings once a week.  Also, students seem to process and retain what they are learning about because they have it day after day for these two weeks instead of only once a week.  Many parents share how they believe their child gets more out of the summer because they are finding it easier for their child to connect the dots about their faith.  I think another advantage is the ability to schedule unique activities throughout the program. Although I’ve been able to do some great things during the year it is easier to schedule music for a half an hour for each grade in a 3.5 hour day verses trying to do the same thing during the year when all we have is an hour and 15 minutes.  I try to schedule at least one thing out of class each day as well as allowing the catechists to decide when they want to take their class to a short “snack break”.  In addition, I really like that during these two weeks the classrooms can be set up in anyway the catechists want them to be set up verses during the year when it would take more time to move desks around before class begins and then move them back at the end of class.  Catechists do not tend to do that as much during the year so as not to “mess up” the Catholic School students desks or put them back in the wrong order.  Neither are they able to decorate and personalize very much during the year but in the summer they are able to do that to a greater degree.

Enrichment Sessions

Since I’ve become the Director I’ve required students and parents to commit to 4 times a year for enrichment sessions (twice in the Fall and twice in the Spring).  These session are designed to build community and continue to help kids and their parents grow in their faith throughout the year.

Although I was unsure when I first began working at the parish about a summer program, I now am an advocate of the Summer Program.  I am always aware of the challenges we face at helping live the faith throughout the year.  There are many great things about this program and I am blessed to be able to be at a parish that offers alternatives and various options for parishioners.  One size (i.e., program) does not fit all.   Feel free to contact me about this program and I’d be happy to share more.


This Monday begins our Summer School of Religion Program.  About 10 years ago my parish began an alternative religious education program.  It offers an intensive two week session that is 3 and a half hours a day for two weeks.  Last year 258 students participated.  Many parents love it and other parents would not even consider having their child only go to class for only two weeks in the summer (some think that would be merely getting it out of the way).   There are some real positives to a program of this sort as well as challenges (more in my next post about this).

Over the last three years I’ve worked hard to make sure the classes are covering the same amount of material as classes during the school year.  I’ve outlined the chapters for each grade (1st, 3rd – 6th) in order to help the catechists be prepared and ready to cover their lessons well.  Our program also has music, a church tour, time for the Sacrament of Reconciliation, field trips for some grades, Stations of the Cross, Mass, and a food drive.  It aims to not merely get through so many chapters but to help the students encounter a Catholic culture and a program that forms the whole person.

In my next post I’ll share some of the pro’s and con’s of a alternative program like this one.

Does your parish do anything like this?


Recently I had a great conversation with Fr. Erbin Fernandez, a priest in the Diocese of Singapore who has had a great impact on the catechetical renewal going on in his diocese.  It sounds very exciting!  I really like the way Fr. Erbin has outlined a method of passing on the faith.  I had the opportunity to share it at my catechist in-service last night.  It goes like so (also see chart below):

We want to approach passing on the faith with a lens that goes deeper than what we find in a typical school classroom environment.   Our goal is initiating others into Christ.  We have to make our meeting spaces more than a “classroom” and draw those we catechize into prayer.  Having a prayer space is very important.  It helps cultivate a distinct environment in a classroom or meeting room.  The prayer space or sacred space should not merely be off to the side but should be more central and at the center of where you as a catechist are presenting and gathering your students.  Next we see in a typical classroom teaching situation students have a “teacher”.  When initiating into Christ, the catechist is more than a teacher but a “steward” of the mysteries of faith.  In addition, in a typical school setting you have “students”.  In Catechesis we want to initiate “seekers”.  Cultivating an environment where those you are passing the faith onto are seeking more and wanting to grow in faith is essential to truly drawing them into a relationship with Christ and His Church.  Next, we see that imparting “knowledge” to others is important but not sufficient in a faith environment – “faith” must be fostered and renewed.  The books that are used in classes to help students in a regular school know that subject are a good tool but the most important of books is the Bible.  The Bible is God’s living Word which speaks of his loving plan which He has revealed to us.  It also goes without saying that we are also passing on the Apostolic Tradition that was not written down but handed on through the preaching of the apostles and their successors.  Next, the “instruction” given in a typical school is necessary, but we as catechists are doing more than instructing, we are initiating seekers into Christ.  What is vital for initiating others into Christ is an initiation into the mystery of Christ and all that that entails.  We desire nothing greater than to initiate and draw others into a way of life and a way of being.  Finally, in a school setting the way students learn is through various “subjects”.  In a catechetical setting we cover different topics from week to week which should be in the context of the “liturgical year”.  The story of our salvation and how God has love, moved, worked and acted is remembered and celebrated though the liturgical year.   Here is what Fr. Erbin from the Diocese of Singapore sent me regarding how we should approach our catechesis.

The more we “initiate” those we catechize the more they are not only drawn into a greater love of their faith but also able to encounter faith, encounter joy, encounter friendship, grace, love and mercy from the one who is our all in all: Jesus Christ.  What a gift we have to share and what a joy it is to witness and celebrate it!

What do you think?  I would love to hear your thoughts!


This year I was able to attend the annual NCCL Conference which was in Atlanta.  The best way for me to summarize it up is what the Book of Hebrews says in the third chapter: “Encourage one another daily while it is still today (Heb. 3:13).

It was a great week of interacting with so many who are working in the ministry of catechesis throughout our country.  I met people from California to New York and everywhere in-between.  I walked away being encouraged in my ministry and excited to hear what others are doing on the diocesan and parish level.

May all of us in the ministry of catechesis be encouraged as we enter into Summer and remember whom we serve – Christ who is our inspiration and our life in our ministry!


The Institute for Catholic Education for Liberal Education posted the following from the Headmaster’s Office.  Even though I work primarily in a religious education program there are some good talking points.

The Marks of a Catholic School

Archbishop Michael Miller, former Secretary of the Sacred Congregation for Catholic Schools, has recently penned a “must-read” and easily readable book for all Catholic educators.  The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools faithfully summarizes the last fifty years of Magisterial documents on the Catholic school [Link to Magisterial Documents].  We strongly recommend that the entire faculty read and discuss this book together.  Board members should also be familiar with its contents.

Archbishop Miller teaches that Catholic schools should be:

1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology

3. Animated by Communion and Community

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview

5. Sustained by the Witness of Teaching

The following excerpts from his work illustrate these five marks.

1. Inspired by a Supernatural Vision
The enduring foundation on which the Church builds her educational philosophy is the conviction that it is a process which forms the whole child, especially with his or her eyes fixed on the vision of God. The specific purpose of a Catholic education is the formation of boys and girls who will be good citizens of this world, enriching society with the leaven of the Gospel, but who will also be citizens of the world to come. Catholic schools have a straightforward goal: to foster the growth of good Catholic human beings who love God and neighbor and thus fulfill their destiny of becoming saints.

2. Founded on a Christian Anthropology
The Holy See’s documents insist that, to be worthy of its name, a Catholic school must be founded on Jesus Christ the Redeemer who, through his Incarnation, is united with each student. Christ is not an after-thought or an add-on to Catholic educational philosophy but the center and fulcrum of the entire enterprise, the light enlightening every pupil who comes into our schools (cf. Jn 1:9).

3. Animated by Communion and Community
A third important teaching on Catholic schools that has emerged in the Holy See’s documents in recent years is its emphasis on the community aspect of the Catholic school, a dimension rooted both in the social nature of the human person and the reality the Church as a “the home and the school of communion.” That the Catholic school is an educational community “is one of the most enriching developments for the contemporary school.

4. Imbued with a Catholic Worldview
A fourth distinctive characteristic of Catholic schools, which always finds a place in the Holy See’s teaching is this. Catholicism should permeate not just the class period of catechism or religious education, or the school’s pastoral activities, but the entire curriculum. The Vatican documents speak of “an integral education, an education which responds to all the needs of the human person.”

4.1 Search for Wisdom and Truth
In an age of information overload, Catholic schools must be especially attentive to the delicate balance between human experience and understanding. In the words of T.S. Eliot, we do not want our students to say: “We had the experience but missed the meaning.”

The greatest challenge to Catholic education in the United States today, and the greatest contribution that authentically Catholic education can make to American culture, is to restore to that culture the conviction that human beings can grasp the truth of things, and in grasping that truth can know their duties to God, to themselves and their neighbors.

4.2 Faith, Culture and Life
From the nature of the Catholic school also stems one of the most significant elements of its educational project: the synthesis of culture and faith. The endeavor to interweave reason and faith, which has become the heart of individual subjects, makes for unity, articulation and coordination, bringing forth within what is learnt in a school a Christian vision of the world, of life, of culture and of history.

5. Sustained by the Witness of Teaching
The careful hiring of men and women who enthusiastically endorse a Catholic ethos is, I would maintain, the primary way to foster a school’s catholicity. The reason for such concern about teachers is straightforward. Catholic education is strengthened by its “martyrs.”

What would you add?


Misunderstandings

Why does the Sacrament of Confirmation seem to be so misunderstood?  My pastor was speaking to a group of people about how the understanding of the Sacrament of Confirmation has been misunderstood.  Over the last  40 years it has been emphasized as a Sacrament of commitment, a sacrament of adulthood and a sacrament to personally make the decision to live one’s Catholic Faith.  Even though this is not all wrong, these do not communicate or give the central meaning of the Sacrament.  First and foremost the Sacrament of Confirmation is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, as gift, just as it was at Pentecost.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “It is evident from its celebration that the effect of the sacrament of Confirmation is the special outpouring of the Holy Spirit as once granted to the apostles on the day of Pentecost”(Para. # 1302).

Gift of the Holy Spirit

A Sacrament is a free gift of God’s very life.  The Sacrament of Confirmation is primarily a gift of God’s grace and life to the those who receive it.  The Catechism speaks of this gift in the follow paragraphs:

1288 “From that time on the apostles, in fulfillment of Christ’s will, imparted to the newly baptized by the laying on of hands the gift of the Spirit that completes the grace of Baptism. For this reason in the Letter to the Hebrews the doctrine concerning Baptism and the laying on of hands is listed among the first elements of Christian instruction. The imposition of hands is rightly recognized by the Catholic tradition as the origin of the sacrament of Confirmation, which in a certain way perpetuates the grace of Pentecost in the Church.”99

1289 Very early, the better to signify the gift of the Holy Spirit, an anointing with perfumed oil (chrism) was added to the laying on of hands. This anointing highlights the name “Christian,” which means “anointed” and derives from that of Christ himself whom God “anointed with the Holy Spirit.”100 This rite of anointing has continued ever since, in both East and West. For this reason the Eastern Churches call this sacrament Chrismation, anointing with chrism, or myron which means “chrism.” In the West, the term Confirmation suggests that this sacrament both confirms and strengthens baptismal grace.

How To Rediscover It

How do we help those preparing for this sacrament, especially those receiving it in middle school or high school?  I would like to suggest the following ways to focus on the gift of Confirmation through a catechetical renewal of sorts.

1. Put greater emphasis on God’s action of the gift of the Spirit being poured out into their lives.  It’s more about what God is giving than what we are going to do to respond (as important as that is).

2. When speaking about being witnesses for Christ and living out The Faith do this within the context of communicating the fruit of God’s life and love poured out to us.  Scripture speaks about how the apostles were compelled to respond to the great love and grace God had poured out (see Acts 2 and following).  Encouraging young people to “live out” their faith is a natural response to God’s generosity.   Repeating and emphasizing this is vital to an authentic renewal and rediscovery of the Sacrament of Confirmation.

3. During Confirmation preparation period speak of Confirmation not being a completion of their time in religious education but a beginning to the next step in their lives.  Confirmation is so much more about new beginnings than it is a graduation or completion of something.

4. Find ways to involve students long after the Confirmation Mass is over.

How have you succeeded at your parish in helping students continue to grow and be involved after Confirmation?


The last 3 posts in this series have been on the responsibility of the catechetical leader (CL) to provide formation for catechists.  I would like to now turn to the next responsibility mentioned by the National Directory For Catechesis – policies and procedures.  The NDC states the importance of the “Implementation of diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines, including the areas of catechist certification and supervision and administrative policies related to negligence, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and the safety and protection of minors.”  Wow, that is a mouthful!

I’d Didn’t Sign Up For This

No, most catechetical leaders don’t find much inspiration from the policies and procedures that are created from their diocese or parish.  However, policies and procedures are necessary in order that the overall program is carried out and certain things are in place to protect both children and adults.

What They Are

It’s important to define the difference between a policy and a procedure.  Dictionary.com defines a policy as “a definite course of action adopted for the sake of expediency, facility, etc.”  It is, therefore, a predetermined course of action that is being asked of catechetical leaders (from the diocese), parents or parishioners (diocesan and/or parish level).  A procedure, on the other hand, is “how” the policy will be carried out.

I found some great points about policies and procedures that I think are helpful from AMEinfo.com:

The major differences between policies & procedures are identified below:

Policies:
• Are general in nature
• Identify company rules
• Explain why they exist
• Tells when the rule applies
• Describes who it covers
• Shows how the rule is enforcement
• Describes the consequences
• Are normally described using simple sentences & paragraphs

Procedures:
• Identify specific actions
• Explain when to take actions
• Describes alternatives
• Shows emergency procedures
• Includes warning & cautions
• Gives examples
• Shows how to complete forms
• Are normally written using an outline format

Policies & procedures are required when there is a need for consistency in your day-to-day operational activities. Policies and procedures also provide clarity to the reader when dealing with accountability issues or activities that are of critical importance to the company, such as, health & safety, legal liabilities, regulatory requirements or issues that have serious consequences. (AMEinfo.com: Why are policies and procedures important).

Here is an example of how the Archdiocese of Chicago articulates their policy and then lists the procedures:

1601.1. Policy: The Parish shall have a parish handbook of guidelines and
policies of religious education. The handbook shall be in accord with Archdiocesan policies. The Parish shall make the handbook available to parents, catechists, and all interested parishioners.
Procedures
a) The handbook includes such information as:
-the parish statement of catechetical purpose;
-schedules of religious education offerings;
-procedures for registration, cancellation of classes, emergencies;
-policies regarding fees, attendance at classes and disciplinary
procedures;
-information on parish policies regarding preparation for
sacraments;
-policies regarding the health, safety and welfare of children;
-a statement of the parish’s non-discrimination policy;
-information on programs for persons with special needs; and
-pertinent Archdiocesan policies.

It goes on, but the above is a good example of the “what” and “how” of a policy and a procedure.

Here is a parish example:

Policy: The following is the St. Ann Sunday School Well-Child Policy. We will work to adhere to this policy for the safety and well being of all the children.
Please keep your child at home if any one of the following has occurred within the last 24 hours:
Fever/Vomiting
Discharge in or around the eyes
Green or yellow running nose
Excessive coughing
Diarrhea
Questionable rash
Any communicable disease

The Procedure: A quick health check will be conducted when you bring your child to the classroom.  A child will not be admitted if any of the symptoms above are present. (from St. Ann’s Parish in Coppell, TX)

The Business Side of Things

Making sure that policies and procedures are created and implemented is an important component in the overall responsibilities of a catechetical leader.  This is what I call the business side of the Church.  Without proper policies and procedures problems and even scandal occur.  This is often the least enjoyable part of the duties of a CL, but nonetheless, essential.  Proper policies and procedures ensure professionalism, safety and order which are all important in catechetical ministry.  With these in place the Holy Spirit is able to more clearly work among God’s people.


Bring in a guest speaker or presenter to your class.  Here are some benefits:

1) A new voice echoing the Faith: Whether they come to give a 10 minute testimony or teach a portion of the class it provides a great avenue to have another faith-filled person reinforce the truths of our Faith.

2) It adds variety:  Students like a change of pace.  Even though you are a great catechist, having someone else present allows your students to experience someone different than usual.

3) Keeps kids engaged: A new voice and unfamiliarity with that person will allow for a renewed focus from your students.  Students are more attentive around an adult that is new to them verses that same two catechists each week.

Providing opportunities for your students to encounter other individuals is a good way to Being a catechist is a challenging and rewarding ministry all at the same time.


We are now ready, after establishing that the role of a catechetical leader is a calling and how they are catechists first, to discuss the responsibility of the catechetical leader as they give the “overall direction of the parish catechetical programs for adults, youth and children (NDC pg. 225).

The responsibilities of catechetical leaders can vary greatly from parish to parish.  The DRE or CRE at one parish is only in charge of elementary school age children and possibly middle schoolers.  AT another parish the DRE/CRE lead both religious education and youth ministry.  Still other parishes have this same catechetical leader also lead RCIA.  Whatever your responsibilities, providing the overall direction is foundational to building the kind of program you believe will assist at accomplishing the mission of the Church in general and parish in particular.

3 important steps in carrying out the overall direction of the program(s) you lead:

1. Vision

It is essential to have a vision for how the program(s) you lead will accomplish desired objectives.  Everyone wants to help others grow closer to Jesus, but how can you and those who assist you accomplish this outcome?   Pope John Paul II spoke of the primary goal or aim of catechesis this way:

“The primary and essential object of catechesis is, to use an expression dear to St. Paul and also to contemporary theology, “the mystery of Christ.” Catechizing is in a way to lead a person to study this mystery in all its dimensions: ‘to make all men see what is the plan of the mystery…comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth …know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge…(and be filled) with all the fullness of God'(Eph. 3:9, 18-19).  It is therefore to reveal in the Person of Christ the whole of God’s eternal design reaching fulfillment in that Person.(#5)”

He then says probably the most quoted line of the entire document: “Accordingly, the definitive aim of catechesis is to put people not only in touch but in communion, in intimacy, with Jesus Christ: only He can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity” (#5).

It is very important to list practical ways you hope to do this in your ministry.  Will you do this by helping catechists create better lesson plans and/or help them by providing articles that assist them in their spiritual growth?  Maybe its finding ways to concretely build and bring a greater awareness in your parish of the value of the program(s) you lead.

2. Communication

Recently my pastor said: “We over communicate and are under-informed”.  This being said, it is important to be purposeful when communicating with your catechists/volunteers, parents, and your staff.  The more those involved understand what to expect, what is going on and what is coming up the more they are able to help fulfill the vision and objectives of your ministry.  Communicating with the staff and the general parish about your ministry is important to help give them an understanding of why your particular program/ministry is working to fulfill the mission of the parish.  Examples of ways to communicate include but are not limited to: emails, the bulletin, personal conversations, and regular meetings.  Successfully communicating allows a catechetical to takes steps to fulfilling the overall direction of your program(s).

3. Evaluation

How is your program going?  Is it in need a a total over-haul, some renewal is certain areas (as if we don’t all need that on a yearly basis), or should it be eliminated.  Take the time to evaluate.  Evaluation can occur in two ways: 1) regularly assessing specific aspects of ministry (e.g., Are we returning people’s calls in a timely fashion?).  2) Quarterly or bi-annually (e.g., have catechists fill out evaluation forms in the middle of the year and at the end of the year.  Also, consider emailing a few questions out quarterly to get feedback from catechists, volunteers, or parents about how things are going.  Just be careful of only doing it once a year…I find it challenging to have your volunteers reflect on the whole year and get the valuable answers that you want.  Breaking it up can really help.  Evaluating your program(s) will allow you to continue to grow, impact others and keep you focused on what is most important in your ministry.

May you continue to grow as a catechetical leader in your ministry and as you help carry out the overall direction of your parish program(s).  What components are important in helping a catechetical leader bear fruit as they provide direction in their program(s)?


The Call

The leadership role of a parish catechetical leader is crucial to the overall success of a religious education program.  In my first post on this series I shared how I would be exploring “the call and responsibilities of those who have a leadership position in the catechetical ministry of their parish, especially when it pertains to the religious formation/education of adults, youth and most specifically and commonly, children.”  I believe it is essential for a catechetical leader to be called to this ministry of passing on the faith.  The introduction of the NCD states: “The Holy Spirit has given all those responsible for catechesis in the Church a vocation and a mission to sanctity (pg. 20).”  Therefore, it is vital that all catechetical leaders live out their vocation which the Holy Spirit has initiated.

A Response

A catechetical leader, whether they have a PhD or minimal training, has been called to proclaim the Gospel, lead others to Christ and joyfully pass on the deposit of faith given to the Church by Christ and His successors.  Faith is a gift which follows a response.  God’s gift of redemption is a gift that seeks a response.  Working in a ministerial role in the Church naturally requires one to respond to Christ’s call “to bring about in the believer an ever more mature faith in Jesus Christ, a deeper knowledge and love of his person and message, and a firm commitment to follow him (NDC, pg. 54)”.

The Holy Spirit’s Guidance

I can remember as I grew in my faith, especially during my college years, how I experienced the call and desire to pass on the glorious heritage of the Catholic Faith and share it with others.  It did not happen all at once but over time through prayer, study and many encouraging individuals helping me discover and properly discern my call to ministry.  During my studies in theology, I was continually inspired and encouraged by the Holy Spirit to share my faith and help lead others closer to Christ.  I continue today to be grateful to this call and for giving me the grace to respond.

As a DRE or CRE how did Christ call you to this ministry?  Who helped you respond to this important work in the Church?


The United States has approximately 19,000 Roman Catholic parishes across the 50 states.  That means there are thousands of individuals who are helping lead, direct, coordinate and carry out the ministry of catechesis here in the United States.  This is no small endeavor.  Over the next few months I will be exploring the call and responsibilities of those who have a leadership position in the catechetical ministry of their parish, especially when it pertains to the religious formation/education of adults, youth and most specifically and commonly, children.

The National Directory for Catechesis is very clear on the importance of the leadership of those who are carrying out the ministry of catechesis which is first and foremost the Bishop of a diocese and secondarily the pastor of a specific parish.  Over the last few decades pastors have commissioned qualified (and at times not so qualified) individuals to assist in this apostolic work.

According to the National Directory for Catechesis, “The single most critical factor in an effective parish catechetical program is the leadership of a professionally trained parish catechetical leader” (pg. 224).  It goes on to stress the importance of having “a competent and qualified catechetical leader”.  What are the things that are foundational to a catechetical leader, often called a Director or Coordinator of Religious Education?

Here is a list below of what the NDC considers foundational to the individuals who carry out the work of catechesis in the parish and a what I will be covering in my series over the next few months:

~ The importance of the academic and spiritual formation of Catechetical Leaders who are catechist’s themselves as well as the one’s responsible for equipping and forming volunteer catechists in the parish.

~ How the catechetical leader carries out his/her responsibility of giving the overall direction of the parish catechetical program.

~ The importance of planning, implementing and evaluating the program you are responsible for.

~ The role of recruiting catechists and providing initial and ongoing formation for them.

~ Implementing diocesan and parish catechetical policies and guidelines.

~ The importance of collaborating with the pastor, other parish ministries as well as boards, committees and councils.

~ How a catechetical leader plays a role in the liturgical planning of the parish.

~ The need to give time and attention to ones own personal, spiritual and professional development.

 

Image by jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


It is a new calendar year but not a new Religious Education year, HOWEVER, during the second half of the year how do you plan to continue to help your students grow in their love and knowledge of Christ and His Church?  Consider writing down a few goals that will help you build on what you’ve already begun.  For some it may be “beginning again” with renewed vigor as you seek to pass on our Catholic Faith!  God’s abundant Blessings!


In Pope Benedict XVI’s last general audience before Christmas 2010 he said:

“In the night of the world, let us still allow ourselves to be surprised and illuminated by this coming, by the Star which, rising in the East, has inundated the universe with joy.  Let us purify our minds and our lives from everything that contrasts with this coming – thoughts, words, attitudes and actions – spurring ourselves on to do good and to help bring peace and justice to our world for all men and women, and thus to walk towards the Lord”.

Catechesis for Today:

~ The Christmas season will come and go but being illuminated and lead by Christ must be a constant goal for followers of Christ.  In our catechesis may we always seek to bring that wonder and joy that helps illuminate the riches of our Catholic Faith.

~ This image of purifying our minds and our lives from everything that contrasts with His coming is key for every Christian disciple.  May we spiritually seek to do this not only as we welcome into our hearts the Savior at the remembrance of His birth, but know that he will come again and we must be purified and ready!  There will be great spiritual benefit assisting those we catechize understand this.

~ Bringing peace and justice into the world for most of us is on the grassroots level – in our homes, work places, interactions wtih those in our town.  We bring not just peace from war but peace that is from God drawing others closer to Christ and His law of love.  Justice needs to be worked for and for most of us, seeking to love as Christ loves, seeking to serve as He would serve, seeking to treat others with respect, gratitude and joy is what will help us live justly.

“In the Night of the World…Be surprised and illuminated by his coming!”

Originally posted on amazingcatechists.com


Over the last number of years publishers have been “on the move” to get approval from the USCCB’s Ad Hoc Committee for their particular textbook series.  Many publishers have made improvements to their previous lack of solid doctrinal content and outdated focus on “feelings” and “experience is what matters”, however there is still a long way to go.

In my 10+ years being in charge of choosing textbooks, there is still a gap that needs to be bridged. Here are 6 things textbooks need to do to improve meeting the needs (especially for students who go to a public school and meet only one time a week) of students in the Third Millennium.

1. Provide clear content. Many textbooks still lack a clarity of the faith. It presents what at times seems “Schizophrenic” because it’s a little of this and a little of that and not much of one clear idea followed through to the end.

2. Present a more unified method that authentically replicates God’s Pedagogy. It is important to teach as God has taught – gradually and in stages while always seeking our response. We need a method in textbooks that helps the catechists present solid teaching and practical application regarding the content given.  Our goal is for the students to respond to the content – who is Jesus Christ.

3. Less additional material throughout the lesson.  We like to give lots of choices but in this case less is more.  Less content allows students to be more focused and to grasp what is presented.

4. More help using technology. Weather this is how to use a certain video clip from a movie or how to use technology to draws students into the lesson.  Technology is becoming an essential and vital tool in ministry.

5. Less, step by step instruction on what to do next and more of a fluid presentation that lays out important content and useful ideas. It seems that the excessive “hand holding” keeps non-professional teachers (catechists) from transmitting the faith and more bound to the idea of “what do I do next”. This leads to a more dry presentation of the faith.

6. Involving parents. Publishers have assignments that students can do with their parents/families at home but we need to find ways to bring parents into the classroom more.

What are additional marks of a good textbook?  What are you finding is needed in the classroom today?


John Norton from Our Sunday Visitor listed a great top 10 list on reasons to be a catechist.  Many parishes are getting ready to begin the year and are still looking for catechists. Maybe sending this out in an email or putting it in your bulletin would be a way to recruit a few more needed catechists.  Here is the link and actual article below:

http://www.osv.com/tabid/7621/itemid/5282/Top-10-reasons-you-should-become-a-catechist.aspx

By John Norton

Top 10 reasons you should become a catechist

One frequent complaint I hear from readers about the state of our Church today is that too few Catholics know their faith (of course, living it is a separate matter). The temptation is to spend so much time assigning blame that we neglect our duty to do something about it.

One important way we can help pass on knowledge of the faith and love for Christ is by being a catechist in our parish.

Last year, regular writer Woodeene Koenig-Bricker prepared a list of 10 reasons to consider becoming a catechist. Here they are:

10. The best way to learn is to teach.

If your own faith education ended years ago, the resources and materials you are exposed to as a catechist will surely refresh and expand your own knowledge.

9. Catechists tell the truth.

The world needs the message of the Gospel and the way to true happiness; as a catechist, you offer a hungry world that sustenance.

8. Sharing the faith is an honor.

It’s estimated that fewer than 1 percent of Catholics are catechists.

7. Your own faith will come alive.

As a catechist, you will discover that prayer, liturgy and your own relationship with God will become more vibrant and meaningful.

6. You become an active part of the most active part of your parish.

When you join the catechists in your parish, you enter into a community that will support you on your faith journey, pray for and with you and encourage you in your Catholic way of life.

5. A catechist is a role model.

As a catechist, you get to model behaviors young people might not learn anywhere else.

4. You will be practicing stewardship.

Being a catechist is a way of being a good steward by giving a bit of your most precious resource — your time.

3. You show your own family that you value religious education.

Taking time out of your life to teach the faith shows your own children, grandchildren, siblings and family members that you put a high priority on religious education.

2. It’s fun.

Kids remind adults to live and laugh in the moment and get enthused about things like holy days and stories of saints.

1. It’s what we are called to do.

At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus said: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations.”

Did we miss something on this list? I look forward to hearing from you atfeedback@osv.com.


I recently received an email asking me to share the feedback I received from the end of the year evaluations I gave to catechists and aides.  Below you’ll find three things that I thought might be interesting to readers of this blog.

Here are some responses I received under “Name Two ways you would improve our program”:

  • Offer the catechist magazine to whomever would like to order it
  • Have more tests and quizzes and supply grades, even if they aren’t binding
  • Provide email addresses of parents (This was put down very often)
  • Promote ways that the catechists can get to know one another better
  • Schedule a class with the pastor on a particular subject (we did this a few time with grades 1-6) but not with the 7th grade class.
  • Have kids go off site and do corporal works of Mercy.
  • Limit class size to 10-12 kids (some classes had up to 14-17 kids)
  • Have more speakers and have a Mass with the students participating (we did a closing Mass where we had the 6th graders involved)
  • Easier access to TV/DVD
  • Better involvement, communication and interaction with parents.
  • Allow easier access to internet in the classrooms
  • Use Bible every week (make kids look up Scripture)
  • More Lectio Divina (in upper grades)

Some responses to “Name two things you like about the Program”:

  • Structure of classes (this was said multiple times)
  • Stations of the Cross and All Saints Day event
  • Lesson Plans/outlines for each class (mentioned multiple times)
  • So many materials and supplies available (this was mentioned multiple times)
  • Having Reconciliation during class and Mass at various times throughout the year (mentioned multiple times)
  • Communication with parents
  • Nursery provided for the volunteers
  • Prayer time in the church that was organized
  • The various speakers who came to talk to the kids
  • Like the Vocation Fair (7th grade had this)
  • I liked the spiritual information given to us
  • I liked having a co-catechist (mentioned multiple times)
  • Support from staff (mentioned multiple times)

Some Responses from “Give two suggestions for involving parents”:

  • Have parents be an aide on a rotating schedule basis (this was the most common response)
  • Create focused questions for parents to ask their kids at home
  • Continue to send home the “With My Family” Page from the textbook – maybe have rewards if they bring it back
  • Have a class Mass with parents
  • Parent/child service project or trivia night
  • Do interactive lesson on Sacrament of Marriage involving parents
  • Sign and fill out weekly handouts
  • Homework that kids have to work on with parents
  • Bring your parents to class days (We did this in 2nd grade)
  • Have a parent prayer chain for the children and their teachers
  • Have a parent meeting at the beginning of the year (I did this and got sparse attendance)
  • Use parents as faith witnesses
  • Have parents lead the opening prayer and/or closing prayer

What about you?  Did your parish provide an evaluation?  What feedback are you receiving?