Adult faith formation -- collaboratively

The Billerica Catholic Collaborative, made up of St. Andrew, St. Mary, and St. Theresa Parishes, serves the entire Catholic community of Billerica. Now in its second year of collaborative ministry, staff and parishioners continue to explore this new model of leadership. Father Shawn Allen is pastor of all three parishes, ably assisted by parochial vicars, Fathers Martin Dzengeleski, and Gerald Souza, senior priest in residence Father John J. McCormick, and Permanent Deacons Phillip DiBello and Allan Shanahan. Pastoral associate Adrienne Cullen is part of the dedicated lay staff of the collaborative.

Adrienne credits the collaborative training they are getting as well as the books "Forming Intentional Disciples" by Sherry Weddell and "rebuilt" by Father Michael White and Tom Corcoran, for re-energizing the discussion of parish-based adult faith formation. After a spring and summer of planning, the Billerica Collaborative embraces the task of evangelization described in Disciples in Mission: "the work of reaching out to our brothers and sisters and drawing them more fully to Christ Jesus."

The staff has put together an exciting adult formation program for the coming year. The proposal has deep roots in the teaching documents of the Church. In 1979, Pope St. John Paul II wrote, "The catechesis of adults... is the principal form of catechesis." Twenty years later, the Catholic bishops of the United States published "Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us" (OHWB), a pastoral plan for adult faith formation. These writings have led to a heightened awareness of the need to help adult Catholics be confident in their faith, attentive to their prayer life, and aware of their call to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Pope Francis' exhortation the "Joy of the Gospel" and locally, "Disciples in Mission," both emphasize evangelization and assisting people to grow closer to Jesus. The Billerica staff hopes that by providing solid faith formation for adults, "they will be called to become what Sherry Weddell calls 'intentional disciples' and bring the light of Christ into their families and out into the community."

The 2014-2015 Adult Faith Formation program has something for everyone, from a "Crash Course in Catholicism," to a study of sacraments in "Why Catholic?," to several Bible study groups, and a seven-part series built on Jesus' question to his disciples: "Who do you say that I am?" This theme was chosen so that adults, "will be learning about the person of Christ and his Church in the context of discovering who Jesus Christ is for us today." The schedule is attentive to the season and liturgical cycle. In September, the focus is on Jesus the Teacher. In November, the month of All Saints and All Souls, it is Jesus: Judge of the Living and the Dead. Advent is Jesus: Emmanuel. In the new year, topics include Jesus: Person of Prayer; Lamb of God; Head of the Church; and Son of Mary. The collaborative will offer a mini-retreat in February and a teaching Mass. Offerings will begin in September and conclude in May 2015. Sessions in the Jesus series will be offered at different times in each parish so that parishioners of any parish can find the time that is most convenient for them.

Deacon Shanahan, Deacon DiBello, and Adrienne Cullen will alternate months as presenters. They will use a similar format of an opening prayer experience with table talk, catechesis and sending forth to live what was presented. The year will conclude in May with a multi-media art display at St. Theresa Parish Hall with artistic responses to the question "Who is Jesus for me, personally?"

An eight-page Adult Faith Formation booklet describing the program and schedule will be available at the back of the church in the coming weeks. This ambitious endeavor is worthy of prayers for its success. It is an example of what can be done when parishes work together toward a common goal. Drawing from OHWB, Adrienne states that their goal is "to form a collaborative that is 'vitally alive in faith' by providing 'a parish climate and an array of activities and resources designed to help adults more fully understand and live their faith.'"