A Note about Curriculum and Planning for the Fall:
The main goal of faith formation is to build disciples and to foster a relationship with Jesus Christ. Finding ourselves in unprecedented times, the home should continue to be supported as a primary place of learning, thus strengthening the Domestic Church. (While the Archdiocesan Religion Curriculum asks that a minimum of 30 hours of catechesis per program year be attained, this assumes a more traditional format of gathering in sessions at a parish, and realistic modifications should be made where necessary.)
For planning purposes for next year, the Office of Formation and Discipleship (OFD) recommends:
- Preparations for virtual faith formation to continue in the fall
- A hybrid approach consisting of modified in-person sessions (if possible) combined with virtual sessions
- Centering faith formation around the family (for example, inviting families to pray, reflect, and live the faith together through shared activities and service)
- Strategies for following up with parents and families to ensure healthy and realistic accountability
The ten recommendations below provide direction for an approach centered around the family. For more detail on a concrete approach offered by OFD to assist the ’20-’21 faith formation year, see these Families Forming Disciples PowerPoint Slides, which will be updated as needed. For suggested lessons that PCLs and catechists can utilize, see these Families Forming Disciples Lesson Plans which will be created in English and in Spanish (suggested outline for the year coming soon with more lessons on the way). For parishes looking for more planning assistance, please contact OFD. We are happy to work with you and will continue to seek resources that can assist you.
The recommendations below are intended to help parish ministry leaders, especially those working with parents, children, youth, and families in the areas of evangelization and faith formation, in their planning for the year ahead. Circumstances and community needs can vary from parish to parish, and the recommendations do not attempt to account for every possible scenario. They do, however, encourage leaders to see this time as a renewed opportunity to inspire families—and especially parents, grandparents, and guardians—as evangelizers and to support family faith formation, seeing the family and the home as the daily, natural environment meant to foster one’s daily encounter of Jesus Christ and the life of ongoing conversion and discipleship. Given all the stressors upon family life at this time, the points below also invite leaders to consider how to work with and accompany their families in a way that will build them up and avoid unnecessary burdens. The points can be adapted by those serving various ministry areas, including adult faith formation and senior adult ministry, and they presume that mature, adult discipleship is the heart and goal of all faith formation efforts.
1. Be present
Commit to being a constant presence to lift up, encourage and help families stay connected to God, to one another, and to their faith communities.
Many parents are feeling overwhelmed at this time of uncertainty and social/safe distancing. In addition to being an added stress, it may be unrealistic and counter-productive to require that parents teach or accompany (with the assistance of catechists) each of their children in an electronic-correspondence or digital course format, while keeping up with school and work. A family-focused, thematic-activity approach to evangelization and faith formation, rather than an individual-child focus, can go a long way to ease anxiety and create enjoyable family faith growth. As a first step, contact your curriculum publisher for online, family-focused faith formation resources. For the longer term, consider what a plan might look like for the year, perhaps organized around the liturgical calendar and key catechetical themes, especially the centrality of Jesus Christ and the kerygma or Gospel of His saving death and Resurrection.
3. Communicate clearly and often
Create a consistent plan for communication. How will you communicate with families and how can they contact you, through text, email, Remind, etc.? How often will families gather online? What day(s) and time will work best for the majority of families? How much is too much and how much is too little? Establish a regular time and format and stick to it.
4. Use technology with purpose
Choose a platform(s) that will meet your needs. Assess the technology resources of both the parish and the members with whom you are planning to interact. Do they meet your needs? Are they user friendly? What features would make your gatherings more effective? Would families be comfortable using this technology? How can you best send messages and/or materials? (Hint: The platform which the participants would utilize to communicate with their own extended families and/or friends is usually a good choice.)
Various video conferencing platforms exist, and consider utilizing additional vehicles of communication such as your website, newsletter, Facebook closed groups, etc. A key question to consider: How can you stay in contact with families who do not have access to technology?
Please remember to maintain communication practices that are consistent with our Safe Environment Guidelines.
5. Welcome families and be yourself
Create a welcome video or have a “Welcome Meeting” where you share about yourself. It is also important to give families opportunities to share about themselves. (You could start by sharing three fun facts.)
6. Communicate expectations clearly
Create an orientation presentation or video for parents that will clearly explain how the online gatherings and family activities will work, dates and times, and any other expectations you may have. Emphasize that you are there to support them, and not to burden them. (Post all important information and share updates as needed.)
7. Focus on the opportunity to connect
Instead of focusing on what has become temporarily unavailable, emphasize the opportunities we have now that we are gathering as families online while at home—opportunities that may not arise as easily through traditional, in-person, grade-level formats in the parish. (Create community through the use of “Show ‘n tell” family projects such as making an Advent wreath, a prayer corner/sacred space in their homes and allowing classmates to view them, etc.)
8. Keep it meaningful
Parents want help in strengthening their family’s relationships. Choose activities that make a space for meaningful faith conversations and rituals within their homes and during the natural rhythms of family life (meals, family celebrations, baptism anniversaries, feast days and liturgical seasons, etc.). All of these support the family as a domestic Church.
9. Keep it fun
The goal is to create opportunities for families to engage in sharing their faith and, by doing so, growing in their faith. Enjoyable experiences that bring them closer to God and to one another, while strengthening their bond with their parish faith community, are key.
10. Ask about and listen to parents’ experiences
Make it a point to reach out to parents, to ask how they are doing with at-home faith formation, as well as how they are coping. Listen patiently to their concerns and possible frustrations. Being both flexible and pastoral is central to building relationships and accompanying families.
For more information and support, go to our Families Forming Disciples webpage.
During this time, it is helpful to recall the enlivening principle behind all catechesis, which is to put people in contact with our Lord Jesus Christ: “‘At the heart of catechesis we find, in essence, a Person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father … who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever….’ Catechesis aims at putting ‘people … in communion … with Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity’” (CCC, no. 426; quoting from Pope St. John Paul II, CT, no. 5). Pope Francis’ renewed call for evangelization and kerygmatic catechesis offers further encouragement (see EG, nos. 160-168).