I work in a parish office of a very small rural parish.  We have 300 families max.

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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?