Thursday, December 06, 2012

Your Parish Is The Curriculum

    During the last round of parish closings here in our Archdiocese, I was asked by a religious ed. director to come and help her plan for the year ahead. One year from that time, 3 of the town's parishes would be closed down, and all would be joining together at the 4th (where she worked). She would be incorporating 3 additional parishes-worth of faith formation kids (just kids, no lifelong catechesis there at the time) into her one program. She was worried about how she'd integrate the four parish groups together, how to make the new kids feel welcome.
     After talking for a while, this was my suggestion: Throw the next year's religious education calendar out the window, and instead, hold 4 large group gatherings. Each parish's young people would meet individually and plan an evening, where they would host the other 3 groups at their soon-to-be-shuttered church, make and serve dinner to their guests (maybe something that reflected their parish's Italian heritage, for instance), give them a tour of their church, tell stories about the history of their parish, talk about their patron.
     The fourth gathering would be at the new "home" parish. The kids from that parish would do the same thing. After their dinner/tour/presentation, a welcoming ceremony might be celebrated, combining favorite songs or rituals from each of the parishes. Maybe everyone would get a t-shirt with a new parish logo on it. By the end of the year, each child would know more about their own "heritage" and about their new parish, they would have met the kids from the other parishes, and would feel some ownership over the process.
      The DRE couldn't do it. She couldn't throw out her curriculum for the coming year. How would the kids learn about the Creed? About the Old Testament? About whatever was on their list of topics? Ultimately, I heard that she just went ahead and did her usual thing, wrote up class lists and recruited classroom teachers, and soldiered on, hoping for the best. I'm sure the parish made efforts to welcome the new families, but I've always felt like it was a missed opportunity.
      When we welcome new people into our community, it can't be seen as a process of swallowing everyone whole, washing away their history and immersing them into "our" culture. Integration can't deny the existence of a history, of a loyalty to community, to pain in losing a church building (even though it's "just a building," something that was said over and over during that time of painful change and loss). People don't come into a parish community as a white page, waiting to be colored in.
     Many years ago (before all that consolidation even began), I read with fascination an article in "Today's Parish Minister" (I think... I wish I could find that issue!) called "Your Parish IS The Curriculum" which talked about the deposit of faith that exists within the community, in its rituals, its traditions, its memory, its actions. Before it was cool, TPM said that there was plenty of fodder for faith formation right in our parishes. Leaving the textbooks unopened for a year wouldn't necessarily mean that people weren't being formed.
     I can't help but mention that lifelong faith formation allows us to be freer than this DRE must have felt. Since we intend (and believe it will happen!) to be forming our people in faith throughout their entire life, and not just until they turn 16, we can forgive ourselves for not hitting every point of faith on a time-sensitive schedule. Kids have their whole lives to learn the creed, the Old Testament, etc. We can address real-life, real-world concerns catechetically, we can focus on evangelization and know that people will "get it" in one way or another.
     Curriculum is not the Gospel.

1 comment:

Nants said...

Wow, such an opportunity----missed! That would have been so great! That's too bad. Has that DRE come back to you to ask for any more advice? :)