We know that 'we've always done it this way' doesn't mean that this is the best way. Nor does it mean that it isn't.
Celebration of the Mass and sacraments is the most important thing that takes place in every parish -- collaborative or not. Other sacred responsibilities include practicing the Works of Mercy, helping adults deepen their relationship with Jesus Christ, fostering discipleship, and passing on the faith to children, youth, and young adults. The Code of Canon Law says: "The Church has in a special way the duty and the right of educating, for it has a divine mission of helping all to arrive at the fullness of Christian life." (Can 794.1)
In 1979, Pope St. John Paul II issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, "Catechesi Tradendae" (On Catechesis In Our Time). This seminal work has informed just about every catechetical, religious education, or faith formation document since its publication. The Holy Father wrote, "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." (CT I.5) Canon 794 and CT I.5 are complimentary. As some collaboratives look closely at how they evangelize and make disciples, they are changing how they "do" religious education. Some, are even changing the name to faith formation. A new format can look quite different, and that difference can be jarring. Over the next few weeks, we will look at how collaboratives are using both traditional and innovative models of faith formation to accomplish this education toward the fullness of Christian life, and intimacy with Jesus Christ who leads us to ... the Father in the Spirit.
A familiar model of catechesis (instruction in the faith), is the weekly, classroom model. This format uses religion text books that have approved by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and includes additional opportunities for prayer, reconciliation, and Christian service during the academic year.
Brookline recently introduced a new text book series and, to emphasize the importance of Mass attendance, their schedule of class times has been adjusted so that class precedes Mass. Edie Wright McDaniel, DRE, feels that this is "changing the entire attitude toward religious education and Mass."
The Blue Hills Collaborative of Most Precious Blood in Hyde Park, St. Pius X in Milton, and St. Anne in Readville, describes their faith formation for children: "Faith formation seeks not only to set the goal of Christ and eternal life before us, but to show us how to reach these ends." They have added a 9 a.m. Family Mass on Sunday; religious education follows at 10:15 a.m. Sheila Farley, Religious Education Coordinator, notes that, "Families walk right from Mass to the school (Collaborative Center) for classes. On the first Sunday of the month hospitality is offered in the school for everyone." By rearranging the schedule, enrollment has increased. They do not have a youth ministry program right now, but their goal, stated in the draft of their Local Pastoral Plan is to "hire a trained and motived youth minister" to build a youth program. The staff monitors program changes carefully, ready to adjust as needed.
The Cranberry Collaborative does intergenerational faith formation. Sacred Heart Parish has used this model since 2004. Families come together monthly. Each monthly session is offered on four different days at different times, to accommodate the irregularity of family life. Intergenerational meetings often begin with a meal, moving on to shared prayer, and a group presentation. Then the group separates for age-appropriate instruction on the same topic, and comes together for closing prayer. This model serves all ages, pre-school to adults, families of all shapes and sizes. There are materials to take home to continue formation between formal meetings. Sacrament preparation sessions are added for reception of first reconciliation, first Eucharist, and confirmation. One young 'berry participant says: "I like learning about God and other awesome things with my family."
Experience repeatedly tells us that one size does not fit all. These collaboratives are using different models. We know that "we've always done it this way" doesn't mean that this is the best way. Nor does it mean that it isn't. The key is finding the best way in this particular parish to reach out and bring in families -- adults, children and teens. More next week.
Susan Abbott is the former Coordinator of Parish Outreach for the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Pastoral Planning.