During my first class with the RE Guru, we were asked to say our names and "what we bring to the table." I should have said "I love kitties" but instead I said "I work at a parish that does Whole Community Catechesis really well." He was happy to hear that, and said "Oh we'll be doing a lot of talking about that this semester, maybe you can do a presentation for us!" (Crap. Note to self: kitties next time.)
But the truth is I am massively proud of our parish and especially of our parish's work in faith formation. Last night we had our opening session of Generations of Faith, starting our year of focus on the Liturgical Year, and it went fabulously well- our parish hall was packed to the gills with happy people, and the breakouts... well, let me tell you what I love about Whole Community Catechesis in seven quick takes...
1) Okay so we call it Whole Community, but lately I am liking better the term "Total Community Catechesis" which is what BC prefers to call it. I like that title because the "total" in TCC means total community, that is, that the whole parish community is invited to learn and grow. All ages, all stages, everyone who is present and not, everyone who would traditionally be in a faith formation and everyone who wouldn't be caught dead in a faith formation program. But "total" also refers to the methods used by a parish to meet those people. GOF, yes, of course, but also publications, programs like LEX and parent groups and Mass and Facebook and Twitter. It allows us at our parish to be incredibly creative and try new things and explore new ways of doing faith formation that has made us grow in amazing ways, and the parish too.
2) Last night we had over 250 people in our hall, and it looked like around 20% of them were new. A 20% increase in faith formation registrations??? Amazing. Our intern who will be working with us this year attended for the first time and said it was like nothing she had ever seen before. She visited every breakout and was, she said, really impressed. In my parent group she sat next to a woman who said "I'm here because my (elementary school-aged) daughter begged me to come." Not one complaint was heard, there were smiles all around, and the energy was amazing. A man approached our dre and said "the community here is wonderful!" Someone finding our community wonderful, through participating in faith formation??? Amazing. (and it is a wonderful community, in large part due to this program.
3) On the other hand, I was amazed and pleased last night to realize how many people there I knew. There were so many familiar faces, whole families that I knew. I remembered that as a youth minister in my first parish, I would often have kids pass through my program for 6 full years without ever meeting their parents. Now, with this model, I know kids, their parents, their siblings, their grandparents, their cousins and aunts. It is such a blessing to know families in this way.
4) I love, love, love working with the parents in this program. I started with them two years ago, and they were uncomfortable and silent. They had not been told how important their faith is to their children's faith, how important they are to the Church community, how wonderful they are, how capable they are, how valid and valuable their faith and experience are. When I first asked them to turn to each other and introduce themselves and share their thoughts, they really seemed to find it uncomfortable. Even last year, when I asked them to turn and talk to each other, there would invariably be a couple of people on the edges, who sat alone and didn't interact. Last night every single person, new to the program or experienced, turned to talk and share with other parents. It was something to behold. I really can't imagine going back to a model of ministry for young people that doesn't involve the rest of their families.
5) Teamwork! This year we're really working on growing the team and involving as many people as possible in the planning and execution of these gatherings. We've really gotten a rhythm down with each other, and love the chances we have to try things out. We have so much fun dreaming up the plans for each session, and really get to use our brains in ways I never could in traditional classroom models. This year our logo features an iphone with "apps" for all the liturgical seasons... jumping off of that, our opening large-group sessions each month feature an older member of our congregation (our emcee) trying to figure out some new "appy" on his iphone, and needing a younger person to explain it to him. They use a "calendar thingamajig" on his iphone to look at the featured season for the night. It's quick and fun (and funny!) and was a great kickoff for the learning last night.
6) It's hard, hard work. Last night we dealt with a flood of people who hadn't registered, ran out of chicken fingers and classroom space, struggled to be present to everyone in some way or another, ran around like crazy headless chickens, and then had to clean up! I want to tell you that I was DOG-TIRED at the end of the night, and needed an extra nap today. It is an exhausting model of faith formation, MUCH more work than sitting in my office while the teachers met with the kids. But I felt pride and satisfaction and genuine love of my job at the end of the night, and don't remember feeling this way in the traditional model. (well heck, I loved what I was doing back then but you can see the difference, can't you?) I am starting to think that anything one works hard for is worth the effort.
7) Check it out: there are people who say that this model is plain EVIL! I have certainly noticed that the excitement around GOF has waxed and waned, at least here in this Archdiocese. In fact, originally here the model was cheered and raved about by the "higher-ups" and then suddenly a letter went out reminding us that "systematic" faith formation needs to be the main model. One might ask what they mean by "systematic," and one might deduce that they're talking about textbooks. In fact the aforementioned evil-sayers' complaints about the model are mostly that it's not didactic enough, and relies too much on "spirituality" (blech!!!) and getting the "love of Jesus in their hearts" (oh man, how horrible!!!). What they're really saying is that the content provided in this model is not controlled by a publisher or an imprimatur.
In fact I believe that the reason the hierarchy has shied away from this model is due in large part to the lobbying of the textbook companies. But I want to assure you that we use lots of texts to plan and teach this program. We use the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we use really wonderful (approved!) resources. But we don't spend $20+ for textbooks and umpteen dollars for teacher editions that can't (really, they can't) be used out-of-the-box in a community. One size really does not fit all. The best part of this model is that it's a model, not a curriculum. It can be as formative as you dare it to be.
Well I've gone on long enough... you can tell I'm passionate about this model. Come and check it out sometime, we'd love to show you what is happening in our parish.