Now that my synthesis has been submitted, and I'm waiting to hear if the readers can tell what it was I was trying to say, I've been thinking a lot about lifelong faith formation and how different it is, mind-set-wise, from the "traditional" classroom model. Specifically about how thinking of faith formation as life-long frees everyone from the panic attached to a graduation-like Confirmation day. DRE's who assume young people will leave their programs on Confirmation day are concerned that they only have up until that day to teach the kids everything. Everything. So their programs are back-filled from that day, and packed with all the important topics. Textbooks are bought and used and finished, dammit, by the end of the year, so that the DRE can know that all the students are right where they're supposed to be.
Here's an example of a situation where this fear-based model came up against a need for pastoral care (in my opinion) and fear won.
Many years ago I got a call from a DRE in a neighboring town, who had just learned that in one year, 4-5 parishes in their town would be merged into one, with the others closing down for good. She wanted help figuring out how to merge the several programs into one, smoothly. The parishes that were closing were small, but historic, and some had strong devotions and some had ethnic religious practices associated with their parish.
Perfect! I suggested that they use the year to make the transition. I suggested they change their schedule to 5 sessions (or maybe that's all they had planned anyway? I can't remember, it was that long ago) and have each parish host one of the sessions. The host parish could serve dinner in their parish hall, featuring foods that reflected the ethnic or devotional background of their church. They could take their guests on a church tour, sharing the emotional connections and histories of the various characteristics of their church, and they could teach about what it has meant for their families to be part of their parish. By the end of the year, each parish would have had a chance to share their parish with the others, and would know each other, and would have learned about different devotions and ethnic practices, and have an understanding of the heartbreak their new parish-mates would be experiencing, too. They'd finish the year at the surviving parish, celebrating their new all-saints-or-whatever parish with a unique understanding of its situation in history.
Even as I write this, I think this whole plan would be awesome! So much good could come from a plan like this. But the DRE there just couldn't do it. She couldn't "waste" a whole year on this plan, because she had curriculum to cover. So, she didn't. She just went on as usual, hoping more volunteers would show up to cover the more kids she would have.
Maybe it went just fine, and probably the parish has merged successfully and is doing just fine. But this, I think, is a good example of the different ways of looking at formation. In a lifelong model, you can let go of the fear that you're running out of time to teach, because you have their whole lives long. And you can open up to the idea that many different ways of learning and teaching are acceptable. You can consider a year of pastoral care a very good use of your parish's time.