Recently, I was talking to Father about a column he wrote for our bulletin (I’m the bulletin designer and editor). In it, he shares about his frustration (he calls it a step before despair) about adult religious education. He’s in good company; the priests in our diocese who have 1200 families are doing good to get 20 people to their adult education events; guess we shouldn’t complain about the four or five who show up to ours.
Father’s an amazing teacher and catechist, and we’re blessed to have him. Before I was married, and then before I had kids, I was at most of his evening offerings and some of his morning Bible studies. I’ve been through his RCIA series at least three times, and every time I learn something new. I often share books with him and since he’s a bottomless pit of reading, I often get book recommendations from him. I have an advantage many others don’t: I work in the office with him (though less now than I ever have before), so it’s convenient.
Talking to a friend recently, we discussed that what has worked in our parish in the last five years has been small group events and studies, especially those from our MOMS (Ministry of Mothers Sharing) group. We have a number of small Cursillo groups that meet too.
But what about the rest of the parish?
Here are a number of the challenges I have thought about:
- A majority of families in our parish are young families, with children in school. They leave their houses for school commitments and sports, but someone has to be home to help with homework and tuck the kids in at 8 (or earlier). In fact, this is the challenge my family faces. I struggle with the idea of hiring a babysitter (I have family close, yes, but I tap into them quite often), and at our parish, we have enough of a problem getting attendees without also lining up the two adults (who have had the appropriate Protecting God’s Children trainings, etc.) for child care (though I think offering child care is a great idea; it’s just hard to carry out with limited volunteers).
- It’s not convenient. At first, I hesitated with this one. My first reaction was to get critical. But when I step back and look at my own life (and I’m different from a lot of people; I live out in the boonies, not in a neighborhood), I see this as a major factor in how I make my own decisions to spend my time. No evening is good for everyone who’s interested. Saturdays are filled with the things that don’t fit in anywhere else.
- We don’t know about what everyone needs. Is it Bible studies? Is it a series of recommendations and how-to’s with Catholic podcasts and other Catholic in-home resources? Is it support from others who struggle and triumph in their daily faith journeys? I think it’s a combination of these, but it’s hard to address them. The quick answer is to do a study of the parish, to which I smile. That is a good idea. I’m biting back my cynical comment about low turnouts and responses. We haven’t tried it lately.
I don’t go to a lot of parish adult religious education things, mostly because they’re in the evenings and I just don’t have that flexibility in my life right now. But I do listen to a lot of Catholic podcasts (see the left-hand sidebar), read a lot of Catholic blogs (see the right-hand sidebar), read a lot of Catholic books (see my book lists), and I think I’m probably doing OK (not great, just OK) on the educational front. Oh, and I work with a priest. That’s always good for helping the ole catechesis along. 🙂
But still. I’m one person and I’m probably, as I considered it the other day, a Catholic freak. In fact, when I discovered the online Catholic community, I felt a great deal of relief, because I hadn’t found anything like that in my day-to-day life (I have to be careful how many books I throw at people, and how much information — I can see their eyes glaze over, their ears cake shut, their eyes flutter shut…maybe I’m just a bit too enthusiastic?). It has been a place of support and growth for me, and I’ve found ways to supplement it with face-to-face encounters recently (working in that parish office helps, yes, but I also have a very close Catholic friend who has been helping me along).
But it’s hard not to despair if you’re the priest, trying to provide education through the parish and having no one show up.
Now I ask YOU: is there a crisis in adult religious education? What works at your parish? What would work for you?
This is a topic near and dear to my heart. My parish is a moderately-sized one (about 850 families) with an elementary school enrollment of about 300 (pre K through 8th). We run into the same issues, and in the past few years, our parish has been trying a bunch of new things. We are blessed with an AMAZING pastor.
A few things new things we are trying this fall/winter are family-centered. In November, I am running an Advent program (sort of a “make and take”) for families to come together. We will learn more about how we can celebrate Advent in our homes (something so “basic” in the online Catholic community, and so lacking in everyday Catholics with families, jobs, etc). Each family will make a Jesse Tree and an Advent Wreath to take home… with directions on how to incorporate them into family life.
In January, we are planning an adult spirituality night… wine tasting and some sort of lay-led spirituality program in the parish center. Meanwhile, the kids will be next door in the cafeteria, for movie night. It’s the first time we’ve tried something like this, and I’m really excited to be on the planning committee for it.
I think you hit the nail on the head with your reasons for the low attendance. And I agree that there are needs out there to be met. The key is finding a way to do so… especially among the “cradle Catholics” of our generation, who, by and large, had spotty catechesis. If we don’t get the parents, we risk losing the kids altogether.
Well, sorry for writing a novel here. 🙂 You just happened to strike a chord with me this morning.
These are excellent discussion points and I am going to share this thread and some of the new media solutions with our Director of Adult Ed. Crisis? I don’t know. But I myself am frustrated at the lack of overall participation, even at Mass. We have 1100 families registered but if they all actually attended we would be piled 6 deep on Sundays. I think the whole evangelization/catechesis approach needs somehow to be adapted to each parish’s needs but we also have to take into account all the varied ways people want info, lack of blocks of time, fatigue from busy days, range of ages, age and tech savy of the presenters, etc. Whew…I’m exhausted thinking about it. But, then again, the Holy Spirit is in charge, maybe we all just need to listen then act with His energy and wisdom, not ours.
BTW, Sarah, I like your labeling yourself a Catholic Freak. I think I am too and your posting that suddenly struck me that I am proud of that fact. Maybe that is what the word disciple translates into in the third millenium.
I once went to a workshop and found myself complaining along with several others about low turnout at various planned events. The big “a-ha” came when the workshop leader stopped us to ask if we were reaching the ones who did come. Were we only defining success as a numbers game?
Yes, we’d always like to have a full house, but are we meeting the needs of those who do come? Then the event was successful. We have to redefine “success” in some ways, and the Holy Spirit will do the rest. If we start reaching some, they will reach out and bring more in the future.
As long as we continue to provide opportunities and be sensitive to the real-life commitments people have, we’ll be ok in the long run.
What would work for me? How about Sunday morning? I’ve already gone to the trouble of getting everyone out of the house and over to the church; sticking around a while longer would be a whole lot easier than showing up another time. Why not something before or after the “big” mass on Sunday morning, or in between masses, with programs for parents and kids at the same time. Also, I’d be more likely to sign up for or attended something of limited duration –7 sacraaments in 7 weeks rather than a lot commitment. Also, I’d like to hear more catechesis from the pulpit. It can be done, and still fulfill the purpose of the homily; its just easier not to.
As a fellow Catholic Freak at a HUGE parish (3000 families), we still have a similar problem. Faith formation for adults is difficult when there are meetings and soccer and homework and dinner and bedtimes and date nights and housework and assignments that can crowd the week to the point of bursting. The feeling of “Not another thing.” can trump even the willing spirit to engage in further spiritual and emotional development.
Cenacle at our Parish is a means of creating community –via prayer. We gather, pray the rosary and then feast as a group. It’s fun, it’s social and it takes the place of ordinary time on a Friday night when many of us are hoping for an easy evening. By making it familial, we even get the teens interested as they’ll see peers.
I suspect, if a similar traveling Supper program were created, say for Saturday Night –Loaves and Fishes, where part of the feast was a bit of a lecture/led discussion on spiritual issues, you might be able to get people to delve into deeper areas of introspection.
Jesus used the moment, he fed people so they could feel satisfied on multiple levels. He went to them on their boats. He went to them where they worked. He incorporated Himself into their lives. I suspect a similar amount of determination and creativity will be needed at any Parish to provide people with the opportunity to feast on the words and wisdom available via our faith.
Apologies for not getting to this sooner but I know it’s never too late to weigh in on this important topic. I come from the perspective of a plain old parishioner as well as an educator-author and former part-time pastoral associate. Each of those roles affect my response to the issue of adult faith formation.
Overall: I believe it’s critically important and necessary and we need to do everything possible to make it easily available, accessible, AND comprehended by today’s adults.
From all three perspectives, I note that there are a number of cohorts who are nearly completely ignorant about what constitutes faith and religion in general, let alone specific Church structure or doctrine — not to mention what other Christian communions believe. There are many reasons for this and it’s time to stopping the blame game and start making this information and education available.
From the perspective of having been on a parish staff:
creating the calendar of events is probably one of the most difficult and contentious things a parish staff does!
Smaller parishes don’t have the resources to designate someone to handle AFF and this is intensified in parishes were Father knows best and lay leadership are prevented from emerging. Sadly, this is still the case.
AFF is and must be different from what we offer the kids, which requires a particular skill set and vision. What to do? Encourage those who are interested and skilled in adult education to come forward. Those who are interested but not skilled, need to be encouraged and supported to get those skills.
From the perspective as an educator-author:
“Whole family catechesis,” which requires parents to learn along with their children is also an approach that seems to be working. I’m often invited to parishes to speak to/teach the parents while their kids are off doing something else.
I find that the younger parents (20’s & 30’s) are happy sponges for information about my specialties: living in synch with the liturgical calendar and the Jewish roots of Christian worship.
Upside/Downside? Scheduling. Good news is that they’re schedule in between Masses in the morning. Bad news is there’s rarely enough time allotted to deliver substance. What to do? Schedule these get-togethers as a series rather than a one-time one-shot deal.
From the perspective of plain old parishioner: As everyone else notes, at any given time the schedule tends to be inconvenient for some group. What to do?
In addition offering day-time and evening tracks, parishes need to commit the time and resources to asking parishioners about their preferred times AND formats. We currently have the technology to make teleseminars and online gatherings easily available. The excuse that “our parishioners don’t use the Internet” is rapidly becoming bogus.
And I could go on and on!!! Clearly, this is an issue near and dear to my heart as well. Bless you!