Monday, December 03, 2012

we can be pastoral

Next year will be our tenth year of lifelong faith formation. The staff made the arduous but rewarding transition before I came into the family, and by the time I got there, they were getting really good at it. It's a truly collaborative staff and when I came on, in about year 5 of the new model, they were starting to really gain confidence in their ability to teach in this way. Now here we are at year 9.5 and today we asked ourselves some existential questions. What are the numbers like? Are we doing okay? Are we boring people? When they don't come, why do they stay away? What should our expectations be? Having whole families attend together, combined with the fact that people are expected to attend throughout their lifetimes, gives us the luxury of not having to enforce attendance rules. There is no far that if a kid misses a session- or even a year- that that means they'll go off into the world with no formation. We have their whole lives to form people, and people have their whole lives to learn. If they have a family crisis and miss a year, they'll get it next time around. But what if we're not being tough enough? Are we devaluing what we offer by not having higher behavioral expectations from our participants? Should we be offended when they miss a session? As we hashed it out, two visions arose. An administrative approach had us tracking attendance records, raising expectations, setting boundaries (you must attend 7 out of 8 sessions, you must attend a make-up session, etc.) and the second was a pastoral approach. We decided to work harder to make the teaching more varied in style, send more reminder emails. We decided to send our participants a card that would remind them of upcoming dates but also thank them for making our program and parish such a special place. We are going to start sending topical updates between sessions. And we will be sending "we missed you this month" cards to families who are absent (something the High School and Middle School program already does)... not because we want to harrass them into attending, and not because we're worried about numbers, but because GOF is better when everyone's there. We're going to tell them we miss them, because we do miss them. I am thankful to be part of a staff and community that thinks this way. I know it can be done, to do faith formation pastorally, and I think if parishes want to survive, it's going to be vital that we all learn how to do it.

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