New faith formation leaders learn the ropes

After Jesus and the sacraments, "the single most critical factor in an effective parish catechetical program is the leadership of a professionally trained catechetical leader," according to the National Directory for Catechesis. Whether paid or unpaid, all of our parishes have some form of lay catechetical leadership. The titles may be different (director of faith formation/ catechesis/ religious education; coordinator of youth ministry/ confirmation preparation/ adult faith formation; etc.) but the goal is the same -- to help give solid leadership for all faith formation efforts. Those efforts should be targeted on helping people who participate become disciples of Jesus Christ, who then engage the mission of the Church to evangelize.

The Secretariat for Evangelization and Discipleship is committed to serving catechetical leaders through formation, training, consultation, and events. In that spirit, we strive to form relationships with our parish faith formation leaders in a variety of ways. One example of this is our annual "New Faith Formation Leaders Orientation." On Nov. 2, 14 parish leaders, representing every region of the archdiocese, attended the orientation. Some have been in their role just a few months. Others just under three years.

Father Paul Soper, cabinet secretary for Evangelization and Discipleship, and I welcomed those gathered for the event and gave an overview of the department, and an introduction of the Evangelization and Discipleship team. Patrick Krisak, director of the Faith Formation and Missionary Discipleship team, led the group in a conversation about "what brought them into ministry" and "what they were hoping to gain from the day." Most of the participants articulated that they wanted to meet others who were in similar roles and begin to network with them for support and sharing of best practices.

The group spent the next few hours learning about the various archdiocesan offices that exist to help them in their role(s) and the opportunity to meet the leaders of those various offices. This exercise made our primary intention for the day clear to the participants: we exist to serve you and the parishes you serve.

After lunch, the secretariat team offered a variety of mini-talks, followed by discussion. Topics included: an Overview of Disciples in Mission; the Journey of Discipleship; Volunteer Recruitment and Formation; Dealing with Silos in a Parish; Spiritual, Personal, and Professional Boundaries; Ethnic and Cultural Communities; and Ministry with Persons with Disabilities. The day ended with a presentation of basic archdiocesan guidelines for sacramental preparation and a time of prayer.

As they were leaving the "new" leaders expressed gratitude for the day and spent time in one-on-one conversation with each other and with our team members. Their goal of networking with their peers was realized and our team's goal of building relationships with these parish leaders in order to better serve them down the line was fulfilled.

Our team will be going out to meet one-on-one with some of these leaders to follow up and continue to serve them on an individual basis. We will also be meeting with leaders who were not able to attend the day to build those relationships and make them aware of the ways in which our department and other offices in the archdiocese work with them.

The presence of these "new" leaders at the orientation gave hope to our team who gathered with them the entire day. Their witness to faith in Jesus Christ and their commitment to the mission of "making disciples of all nations" was inspirational. As they shared their struggles and questions, we were reminded of the importance of keeping them, and all of our parish lay leaders, in prayer. Please join us in praying for all of them, that they may be given the grace they need to be effective in leading others to lifelong discipleship of Jesus Christ.