An Interesting Update

September 20, 2011

All Things DRE, Sharing Stories

Some time ago, a catechetical leader shared her comments here about the total revamping of the catechetical program at her parish. I invited her to update us which she has done. Some interesting and innovative approaches:

Dear Joe,

 I shared with you how we completely revamped our religious ed. program.  You invited me to share more, so “here goes.”
 
I had been a catechist for about 16 years before I became the Director of Faith Formation (about 10 years ago).  I loved the classroom and it was that experience that, hopefully, made me more sensitive to catechists.  We had a good program but I knew that we could do better.  Each year I heard two things repeated from the catechists:
1.  “These kids don’t go to Mass”
2.  “These kids never see a priest”
 
As the Director of the Program I agreed and had other problems which ‘haunted’ me:
1.  Some catechists are wonderful, faith-filled and creative.  Unfortunately, some weren’t (and we can’t clone ….so…how could we help them?)
2. Where is the family involvement???  Without the support in the home we are 60 min./week vs. THE WORLD!!!  I even designed a ‘family activity’ for each grade level.  I bought tote bags, decorated them and each week a different child brought the bag home to do the ‘family activity’.  These worked well…everyone like them….but it wasn’t enough.
3.  Some catechists move up with their class – so many times I heard, ‘I know I taught this to the kids but with each new year it was like starting over!’
4.  They don’t know the Old Testament – and how it connects with Jesus and our Church.
5.  Programs from 5:00 – 6:00 pm were not that effective.  Kids were tired and hungry – AND SO WAS I!
6.  How can we make our program more like Vacation Bible School which the kids love.
 
So….with a team of ‘retired’ DRE’s (if you can ever really retire) and a very willing pastor, we set out to address some of these issues.  This is what we came up with:
1.  No longer is it CCD – it’s needs a new contemporary look – a make-over.  We decided on EDJE (Everyday Jesus Education) for grades 1-6 and Cross Over 2 Jesus for grades 7 and 8.  We created logos and had pocket folders made for each kid.
2.  All sessions would be on Sundays and each would begin with  a Teaching Mass – gr. 1-6 in the morning, gr. 7 and 8 in the evening.
3.  Each session would be 2 1/2 hours.
4.  For the EDJE Program each session would be – Mass-Class-Blast (Bible Learning and Story Telling). 
5.  Mass – the kids would sit with their classes.  The Altar is on wheels and Mass is said in between the first pews.  The kids can really see what is going on.  Fr. Chip (our Pastor) does the Readings from the Children’s Lectionary and always ‘makes the connection’ between the OT Reading and the Gospel.  We also have a ‘What’s Up With That?’ section during the offertory where our Parochial Vicar comes in and explains something in the ‘environment’ of the Church.  The music is ‘kid friendly’.  We even hired a graphic artist to design Mass Books for the Children to follow along.  We thought the ones available were either too wordy or outdated.  I would love to send you a sample if you’re interested.  The kids love them!!!
6.  Classes – like before – focus on reviewing the Gospel (that they just heard!!!) and Church Doctrine, following the CCC.
7.  BLAST – all the kids gather together in the gym and I tell them one of the OT stories.  We’re marching from Genesis  to Jesus – keeping the story going of the Chosen People.  And then we play a game (with 150 kids) where they get to shout, run around, etc.  But…each game is designed to ‘drive home’ the story that they just heard.
8.  We give them a snack and send them home – with big smiles on their faces.
 
Since we only have space for 1/2 of the kids we divide up the grades – gr 1-3 one week, and gr 4-6 the next.  On their ‘off’ weeks they have a packet to complete at home and hand in – they can attend the Mass of their choice but it counts as a class.  This summer I am putting all of the home packet material online so that the kids can complete the work and submit it online.  They will really like that.
 
Our 7th and 8th grade programs are designed a little differently – but…I don’t want your head to explode – if by chance you are still reading this…..If you’re interested I will be happy to share that with you as well.
 
The changes to the program caused a huge uproar in our town and we lost about 200 kids to neighboring parishes.  Our classes conflicted with sports schedules, etc. and that’s fine.  We had parent meetings to introduce the changes and we were met with some real hostility and anger – which verified that the once a week programs could be better.  We were hearing the voices of the parents who were mostly catechized that way.
 
I don’t mean to criticize the work, efforts, love and faith that is shared by our wonderful volunteers, staff and clergy.  We just thought that perhaps it was time to take a look at how we are ‘doing’ religious ed.
 
Sorry for the length of this email but I’m sure that you can see how passionate we are about all of this. 
 
Let us pray for each other…..
 
God’s peace,
Andrea Woronick, Director of Faith Formation,  St. Joseph Church,  Brookfield, CT.
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27 Responses to “An Interesting Update”

  1. Jenn Says:

    That is awesome that you have the courage to explore something new. Yes, I think most of us know classroom model doesn’t work. But, everyone has done it that way. It also facilitates the idea of graduation in grade 8 where they graduate and leave the Church.
    Love the idea.
    My only critique would be liturigcal… I’m surprised you are getting away with a rolling altar since it’s not liturgically correct. And not sure what you are going to do when we aren’t allowed to use children’s reading in Advent.
    The kids do love VBS. Love the idea of the story- if you could get some of the older kids to act it out that would be awesome.
    Keep being creative!
    Maybe you lost families, but are they families you would have lost after 8th grade “graduation?” If you have more committed families who are going to stay and live the faith in their lives then it’s worth the lost families… well and if your parish council, finance council, and pastor support you.
    The Holy Spirit has gifted you with the gift of courage.

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      Thanks for your words of support Jenn. Actually, this has been my Pastor’s dream for a long time. I’d like to speak with you about something, can you shoot me an email?

      Thanks!

      Reply

  2. Linda Says:

    Congratulations on thinking outside the box and being so creative. Sounds like a really good program. Sorry to hear you lost so many but that is always a problem regardless of the programs used. It’s too bad that sports events etc have become so much more important than God – seems to be true everywhere. I applaud you for making a change and pray that it will bear much fruit.

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      Thanks Linda, it has been a challenging road!!! We felt ‘ok’ with taking Sunday mornings back from sports. Actually, soccer in our town doesn’t begin until after noon out of respect for people’s religious services…now, if we can only get that kind of cooperation from the other coaches!

      Reply

  3. Michelle Foster Says:

    Gosh it’s awesome that you have that flexibility to offer on Sundays!! Our parish is so booked with Masses that there is NO FLEXIBILITY for any classes on Sundays.

    But I love the ideas you have given here! In your idea of flexibility, I have changed our ways too. To accomodate catechist in-services during the same time frame we have held PSR, I send home two lessons a year that are written in “script” form for the parents to teach at home. It’s called PSR At Home. During the time they are teaching their children at home our catechists are gathering and having an in-service at the school! I have recieved great feedback of the PSR At Home lessons…they love them! I have included in the lessons teaching, disussion, prayer, and service all on the topic. The last one we did was on Baptism. In that lesson I asked the parents to bring to the “table” all the articles they had from their Baptisms (candles, garments, pictures, etc) to share. They loved that part! Kids and parents alike! Another lesson I had them bake cookies together, as their service, and they had to discuss and decide as a family who of their neighbors needed “light” in their lives (Advent theme lesson) and to deliver the cookies to them! This one was a huge success. I had them take pictures of their family with the cookies as part of the lesson, they were to turn those in, and I have made a huge collage of the pictures…it’s awesome and you can see Christ in the center of all of these families!!

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      Wow Michelle, sounds like you are being really creative as well, love those ideas! It’s a challenge, isn’t it? Getting the families involved takes a lot of effort, but it pays off, as you well know! Thanks for sharing this!

      Reply

  4. Beth Anne Says:

    This is awesome! I love this program. To the people you lost you can’t please everyone and it was their loss. I’d lost to hear how the 7th and 8th program was done. If I was a parent I almost would like this way because you don’t have to go every week.

    I’ve always thought this way they come in DROVES for VBS how can we do that during the year? I think you figured it out!! Way to go!

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      Well, thanks Beth Anne. This isn’t perfect, but so far it’s working! I just think that we need to take a look at our religious ed. programs on a global basis. Our volunteers work so hard, and care and share so much that I want to support them however I can. We’re always looking for ways to improve, the online work is going really well so far, kids love doing it – kind of like a computer game for them. And with the older kids, it’s great to teach that there are good, healthy things to do on the computer!

      Reply

      • Andrea Says:

        We call our 7th and 8th grade program Cross Over 2 Jesus because it is their last two years of ‘formal’ education and we want them to then cross over to a Christian life. Again, we begin with a Teaching Mass and they sit with their class. After the Mass, I keep them in Church and I present an Old Testament story again. By this time they are familiar with the stories and so we go deeper – right to the issues that they deal with. We cover a theme each session. For example, for Cain and Abel we discuss jealousy, for Moses the theme is leadership or follow-the-crowd, for the Prophets we discuss gossip, and for Joseph, fogiveness, etc. This way, we take a familiar story and apply it to their lives so they see that studying the Bible is far more than learning history stories. They begin to see that they have the same relationship with God that others have. I do this using powerpoints, Youtubes, Godtubes, etc. I really try to touch their hearts. For example, I found a great Youtube of Abraham and Isaac, I play it and then play it again only this time I use the background music and show a powerpoint of Jesus, the Son who was ‘sacrificed’. It’s powerful stuff and I think they really ‘get it’. After that they go to a class and continue the discussions with their catechists. I keep the classes small ~ 10, so that the kids get a chance to really open up. This is their chance to talk and be heard. That’s about it….. thanks for asking!!

        Reply

  5. Barbara ERetto Says:

    Wow! I know this model works… I have takena life long faith formation model and used it for my sacramental preparationa program and it works! I just moved parishes but in my last parish for our middle school grades we had them for 2 1/2 hours and we did an hour of traditional class time; 40 minutes in the church which was handled by the youth minister…. it was used to promote music… and we had a reflection …. and then 30 minutes of social interaction time… It was always our thought that the praise and worship portion would become Mass however the pastor didn’t want to say another Mass since he was already saying 5 masses. I don’t necessarily criticize him for not wanting to add another Mass but we had suggested we change the structure of the Mass times around so that it was the same number….but we fell on deaf ears~! I always felt this model would work and be very beneficial for all! Kudos to you for pulling it all together!

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      I can empathize Barbara. We are so very blessed to have a Pastor who is so on board, actually initiated all of this. Keep trying, your ideas are wonderful and the kids will benefit!!!

      Reply

  6. Margaret Ann Says:

    BRAVO! Thank you for all your hard work and for sharing. These are problems many, if not MOST religious education programs face: the kids don’t go to Mass, they never see a priest AND families don’t make their FAITH a priority. This generation of parents never learned that what makes us Catholic is that we attend Mass – the “source and summit” of all that we do. Please keep sharing!

    Reply

  7. Odet Says:

    Congratulations for your great work. The Mass-Class-Blast is great! I would love to hear how the 7th and 8th graders’ classes are designed. Thank you and thank God.

    Reply

  8. Renea Says:

    This program sounds great and you must be a whirlwind of energy. It sounds like regardless of where we are geographically we all have the same challenges. What this brought to mind for me was, “Why aren’t parents taking their children to church and why aren’t we calling them on it?” If they weren’t showing up for ball practice or games the coaches certainly wouldn’t be re-vamping their programs to accommodate apathetic families. Religious education programs were never meant to replace the family’s responsibility in passing along the faith to their children. I am not criticizing you at all. I applaud your efforts. I am simply expressing my own frustration and wondering if there is a pastoral way to say, “You should be coming to church.”

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      Oh boy, do I hear you Renea!!! No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get some parents to take their children to church, that’s why we made it part of our program. It’s a constant struggle! I do think that we need to take a long, hard look at our religious education system. We can do better, I know that we can! These children are not our future Church – they are our present Church, we need them!

      Reply

  9. Mary C Says:

    Thanks for sharing your efforts to make religious education mean something to the families you serve. We can learn from each other. I agree that the “class” model is showing signs of strain. In my case, each year I have more and more trouble getting catechists for this model. Both parents work. They have little free time and to volunteer to teach other people’s children and deal with all the behavior issues etc is not a train they want to get on anymore. I also agree that fewer and fewer people under 40 are participating in liturgy. They want to “raise their children Catholic” apparently that means learning about the faith but not necessarily experiencing the faith.
    A model we are considering is to form small faith formation communities. These could be 4-6 children and their parents. Every parent attends every session with their child. Parents rotate facilitating the group. They could meet in homes or at Church. With this model we could still use the books (from Loyola, yeah!). This educates parents as well and draws them more closely into sharing faith with their child. Has anyone tried something like this? It differs from “Whole community catechesis” which separates adults and children and still uses “a catechist”.

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      That’s a great idea, Mary. I think that we need to keep trying new models. I love the part about the parents and children learning together and parents take turns facilitating. Sounds like we all face the same challenges.

      Reply

  10. Pat Mullin Says:

    This is a novel idea but it won’t work for us as we only have the Pastor and he is already saying 4 Masses (1 Saturday and 3 Sunday). We do have a teaching Mass about every two or three years and that is successful but it is during our PREP (Parist Religiious Education Program). We hold our classes in the afternoon from 4:00 to 5:00 for grades K-6 and 7:00-8:00 for Grade 7 (Confirmation). The kids come to us straight from school but have a snack in the car and they seem OK most of the time.

    Reply

    • Andrea Says:

      I hear you Pat. The lack of priests is an ever growing problem. I’m glad your classes are working…let’s pray for eachother.

      Reply

  11. Dawn F Says:

    Andrea, I love your ideas. I actually have started doing some of the some things you do in my own class. I started out teaching 1st grade, then moved up to 5th grade. I found that the first graders loved it when I read the Bible stories to them. With the 5th graders, this is my third year with 5th grade, I was apalled that they didn’t really have any clue about the Bible and they really didn’t know the Bible stories. I was raised Lutheran, and in 2nd grade we had to know our books of the Bible and we really knew our Bible stories. So, right from the start, I teach them how to use the Bible, and we read a Bible story each class out of the Bible. We started with Genesis as well. I also use a lot of skits in my class, the kids seem to like and I think it hits home a lot better than just reading it. I would also love to hear what you did with 7th and 8th grade since I will be moving up with my daughter in a couple of years.

    Reply

  12. Andrea Says:

    I agree Dawn, Catholics really don’t know the Bible as well as our Protestant brothers and sisters. The children do love to act out the stories and that is a great way to teach them, and they will certainly remember them! Keep up the great work. I will explain our 7th and 8th grade program (Cross Over 2 Jesus) as a comment to Beth Anne (see above).

    Reply

  13. Angela G Says:

    Hi –

    I think this is a great idea too. I am very curious about the packets that you organized for the kids for their ‘off’ week. Have these been posted online where I might be able to view them?

    Keep up the great work. You are so blessed to have a flexible and supportive community to help you improve things for the families.

    Reply

  14. Joyce Arthur Says:

    I like Andrea’s Sunday program. Following the VBS format is always a winner. I would like to introduce this as an option for our families next school year. We have classes on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I don’t think we can pigeon hole families into the same type of program or expect all families to come on the same day of the week. That is why we offer traditional weekly classes; home-school catechisis where the families meet once a week at the parish; family classes where children and parents have class together.

    Reply

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