September 9, 2011

Religious Education Supplement

Faith formation committee brings creative ideas to religious education programs

Faith formation commission members at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County developed a religious education catalog to promote all of the catechetical opportunities in the 1,011-household parish in the New Albany Deanery. The catalog has helped increase participation in faith formation programming for children, teenagers and adults. (Submitted photo)

Faith formation commission members at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County developed a religious education catalog to promote all of the catechetical opportunities in the 1,011-household parish in the New Albany Deanery. The catalog has helped increase participation in faith formation programming for children, teenagers and adults. (Submitted photo)

By Mary Ann Garber

Teaching the faith to a new generation of Catholics or adults returning to the Church can be daunting tasks.

Connie Sandlin, director of religious education at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Clarksville, admits that the pastoral responsibility of forming people in the faith and preparing them to receive the sacraments can seem overwhelming at times.

Even with excellent religious education materials, archdiocesan catechetical guidelines and well-trained volunteer catechists, she said, the process of providing lifelong learning about Catholicism for children, teenagers and adults is a challenging parish ministry.

Sandlin is grateful for support and inspiration from members of St. Anthony’s faith formation committee, six dedicated volunteers who help her plan effective religious education programs during monthly meetings.

The New Albany Deanery parish did not have a faith formation committee in place when she was hired four years ago.

“I realized that it would be good to have advice and support from other people in the parish,” Sandlin said, “from people of different ages and backgrounds.”

Understandably, organizing a faith formation committee took time.

As Sandlin got to know parishioners then learned about their interests and talents, she assembled a group of people who love God and the Church, and want to do their part to respond to Christ’s call to share the Catholic faith with others.

She found the administrative tools needed to create and maintain an effective committee structure in Choosing Paths on the Journey: Living Out Our Call to Discipleship through Commission Life, a comprehensive training manual published by the archdiocesan Office of Catholic Education several years ago and implemented by trained facilitators.

Both the committee and workbook are invaluable resources, Sandlin said, as she coordinates a busy religious education and sacramental preparation schedule for the 878-household parish.

Christina Flum, director of catechetical ministry for the New Albany Deanery, worked with Sandlin and committee members as a Choosing Paths on the Journey facilitator to identify and set goals, which focus on increasing parish participation in all areas of faith formation.

Of particular concern, Sandlin said, are finding new ways to involve more children and teenagers that attend public schools in parish religious education classes.

“I think our ideas are working because our numbers are up this year,” she said. “They’re still not up where we want them to be, but there has been an increase in participation.”

Titled “JAM,” which stands for “Jesus and Me,” St. Anthony’s religious education programming for students enrolled in public schools begins on Sept. 11 this year.

“We also have a new Bible study program,” Sandlin said, “and parishioners will be praying the rosary before all of the Masses during the month of October. That idea came up at one of our meetings, and we decided as a faith formation committee that we would like to organize it.”

Catholics are called to live their lives in faith-filled ways, she said, with help from parish catechetical ministries.

“I always put the ministry in God’s hands,” Sandlin said. “I just pray that I’m the vessel, and that God will work through me and through our volunteer catechists.

“The committee provides purpose and direction in identifying key areas that we want to work on,” she said. “Their input and support are so helpful to our ministry. Our committee comes up with all kinds of wonderful ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of on my own.”

Bill Unruh, director of religious education at St. Mary-of-the-Knobs Parish in Floyd County, started a faith formation commission after he was hired five years ago to better serve the parish’s 1,011 households.

“The commission is the voice of the parish,” Unruh said. “As the administrator, I need to hear their ideas. They are my eyes and ears to the parish, to the people in the pews. I’ve gotten some good ideas from our commission. We came up with a faith formation catalog that we hand out at registration every year showing everything that is offered for 3-year-olds through adults. I wouldn’t have thought of something like that so it’s always good to share ideas.”

Unruh said introducing Jesus to people of all ages and educating them in the faith is our Christian duty as Catholics as well as an honor and privilege to serve God and the Church.

“When the commission meets, we start by praying together,” he said. “For the past three months, we have been studying all of the [religious education] programs we offer to see if they need to be changed and to make sure the programs can engage people.”

John Jacobi, director of religious education at St. Michael Parish in Bradford, recommends that every pastor and parish staff make it a priority to organize a faith formation committee or work to strengthen an existing commission through a variety of Church resources.

“A great deal of benefit can be gained from reading various catechetical documents together as a group,” he said. “This is formational to the commission, and it sets a great example to the parish of lifelong faith formation.”

Jacobi suggests that commission members begin a three-year planning process with Choosing Paths on the Journey then study the National Directory for Catechesis as well as Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us, the U.S. bishops’ pastoral plan for adult faith formation, and Catechesi Tradendae, Blessed John Paul II’s 1979 apostolic exhortation on catechesis.

“The faith formation commission can be a great sounding board when an administrator is looking at new resources,” he said. “We are working on the new Roman Missal and enhancing family catechesis” for the parish’s 413 households.

“The pastor is the chief catechetical person, but it’s important to share the responsibility,” Jacobi said. “It’s really everybody’s role to ensure that people in the parish are formed in the faith. The commission is a great support that affirms and challenges me in my ministry.” †

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