Faith Formation for Parents: Bruce’s Story

father and daughter

As he sat down, he leaned to the mom next to him and whispered, “Don’t ask any questions; I want to get out of here before eight!” This was Bruce*, a 40-something professional man whose daughter Denise was enrolled in our Confirmation program. The setting was a parent session offered before the children’s sacramental preparation began. Bruce rarely went to church, had little to no spiritual life, and no real knowledge of his Catholic faith outside of what he had retained from high school. Between traveling for work and his leisure activities, his life was pretty full. Bruce was exactly the person I had in mind when I began rethinking how we prepare for sacraments in our parish.

As catechists we’re very aware of the challenge in encouraging families to continue living and growing their faith in their homes and in the Church once the sacraments have been received. Too often the journey ends with a friendly wave and a smile at the close of the celebration, and an empty pew the next Sunday.

I’ve learned that the key cannot be found in better religion classes, sacramental preparation classes, or even liturgical celebrations. The key lies with the parents. Mom and Dad are indeed the primary teachers of the faith; only they can model a life of faith to their children on a daily basis.

Bruce’s attitude on entering the first of our parent-only sessions was a common and expected one. Bruce spends most of his days moving quickly from one thing to the next. He is not in the habit of spending a lot of time in the present moment, but rather setting his attention always on what is coming next. He’s also afraid this whole thing will be a horrible waste of time.

What I found entirely uplifting was the transformation in Bruce and the other parents as our sessions continued. As we journeyed through the story of salvation history, touched on the form and content of the Catechism, discussed the vital role of a personal prayer life, and gave practical help in entering into one, Bruce began not only engaging in discussions, but leading them himself. By the end of the third session he was keeping me after class with more questions!

By the end of our fourth session, through a steady stream of comments, questions, and personal sharing, other parents had also begun to reveal the great hunger they had for God in Word, sacrament, and prayer. But the greatest fruit from this new focus on the faith formation of parents was to be had in the bear hug and note slipped into my pocket by Bruce one Mass a few weeks after our Confirmation celebration: “I would like to thank you so much for your guidance and teaching as you led my daughter and me though Confirmation. Such an enjoyable journey! I especially loved the studies in Scripture! Warmest regards, Bruce and Denise.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

About Eric Gurash 18 Articles
Eric Gurash is a former radio personality and 17-year convert to the Catholic faith who holds a B.Th from Newman Theological College in Edmonton, AB. He has been involved in full-time parish ministry for more than a decade. He is a certified spiritual director as well as a popular speaker, retreat leader, and storyteller. Eric has recently entered into formation for the permanent diaconate. Eric and his wife live with their two dogs in Regina, SK, Canada.

7 Comments on Faith Formation for Parents: Bruce’s Story

  1. I have the same question as the one above. Do you make it mandatory for the parents to come to the parent sessions. How many do you have? What are the topics? and when do you hold the sessions-day and time? I have 125 Confirmation students in my program!

  2. Hi Cindy!

    Our Confirmation and First Eucharist (restored order) process begins in October with a pre-registration info session that outlines 1)Why the order has been restored and how restoring the order makes these sacraments make sense 2)The need for faith to be fully integrated in parents lives if we are to have any hope of passing it on to our children 3)That faith is always a Whole Family thing…which is why our formation sessions are and 4) Outlines the level of participation that is required on the part of the whole family. We do this so they can make an informed decision as to whether or not they can manage these responsibilities right now, or if they need a bit more time to re-prioritize their schedules to accommodate. With the Restored order there is so much more flexibility since the sacraments are no longer tied to a specific age or grade level but are open to any baptized child 7 or older.

    So that’s the “How do you get them to attend.” We just lay it out and let them decide.

    For those who do register everything starts near the end of October with 4 parent-only sessions – 1 each month from October to January. We use a dvd based bible study program that exposes them to the entire story of salvation from Creation to Christ and the Church and which has a heavy emphasis on the importance of knowing our faith and handing it on to our children. I also give the parents a reading guide that leads them through reading the central story of the Bible in about 90 days…or just about when our parent sessions have ended. If they do not have a bible, we give them one free of charge. Parents also begin getting themed prayer materials and activities to take home and begin integrating into their family’s prayer life – or to use as a base for starting to develop one!

    In January we begin a series of 5 monthly sessions that involve the entire family. Where, through VERY active whole family activities at the Church, and their own continuing homework and family prayer activities we move from Baptism, to Confirmation to the Eucharist to our on-going Mission as Christians in the world.

    We end with a full day retreat for the whole family that usually has a local young-adult retreat team come in with live music, skits and contemplative prayer activities the day before our celebration.

    It’s a grand-total of 10 formation sessions (4 parents + 5 Family + 1 Retreat) before we get to the celebration itself.

    What I’ve found is that, if you can show exactly just how important this life of faith is to the parents themselves, everything else falls into place. What is really cool is that, after four months of learning the story of our faith in the scriptures, when I talk about the connections between the sacraments and the scriptural narrative…they actually get it. We’re suddenly speaking the same language.

    It’s not perfect, but we have far more returning and invested families now than we ever have. I was worried at first that, living in a larger urban center, everyone would just opt to go to another parish where the expectations were far lighter (one nearby parish has a 6-week program with no requirement for parental involvement). When I started at the parish 15 years ago inheriting a 4 session program focused on the kids we averaged 30-45 candidates each year. This year we have 34. From my perspective, it’s made no difference in attendance but a big difference in involvement!

    Thank you so much for taking the time to ask!

    Peace and God Bless,

    Eric

  3. Hi Monica,

    I hope I’ve managed to answer most of your questions in my reply to Cindy.

    Parental involvement is mandatory from start to finish..as is regular Mass attendance, Holy Week attendance and attendance at at least one of our parish’s Stations of the Cross/Adoration/Mass events that we hold on Fridays during Lent (Two of these events are hosted by our youth and children’s groups at the parish and are very ‘family friendly’).

    My sessions with the parents only are usually held on Saturday mornings and involve a continental breakfast and cereal bar. Family sessions are held on Wednesday nights and are exactly 1 hour start to finish (630-730pm) so they are conducive to families with younger kids.

    With 125 candidates I would imagine you would have to split them – doubling your sessions. At least that’s how I would handle the numbers which add up exponentially. My 34 Candidates this year resulted in a total ‘Whole Family Session’ size of between 100-110 depending on how many siblings they brought each night (and/or grandparents, aunts and uncles who are also always welcome to join us!).

    If you are splitting the sessions I would be tempted to hold one on a weekday evening and a duplicate session on a weekend morning. Since you’re already doing two, you could also try to help out those families who have goofy schedules.

    Topics for the parent sessions are set by the series we use; an introduction to the Bible followed by sessions that move through Genesis and Exodus, the taking of promised land, the Kingdom (Saul/David/Solomon), The Exiles, Return and ending with Luke and Acts. This is done in 4 2hr sessions.

    Family session topics are; Baptism – Called by name, Confirmation – Sealed with the Holy Spirit, The Mass – We Gather at Table, The Mass – We Listen and Share in Christ (Word and Real Presence), The Mass – We Go and Do (Christian Mission…which is why God has given the gifts of Confirmation)

    Hope this helps. If you have any other questions don’t be afraid to ask!

    Peace and God Bless,

    Eric

  4. Yes, please share your parent faith formation schedule for sacramental prep. Do you do anything similar for First Communion parents?

    • Hi Colette,

      I’ve given a basic outline of our program in my reply to Monica above. If you’d like specifics feel free to email me at ctke@myaccess.ca. I think it’s great when we catechists can share information and help each other in our ministry.

      In regards to your First Communion question, our Diocese switched to the Restored Order of the Sacraments of Initiation for Children five years ago. This means that we prepare for and celebrate Confirmation and First Eucharist together for any child aged 7 or older. The group of parents I work with each year all have their children preparing for and receiving both Sacraments at once.

      I do use nearly the same adult format in preparing parents who wish to have their children baptized. This means that many parents who have had their children baptized at our parish and who are also preparing those children for Confirmation and First Eucharist, have journeyed through the scriptures this way at least twice…more depending on how many kids they have since they have to do the prep every time.

      We also make sure that we invite these parents to take part in our ongoing adult faith formation programs. We currently run three different programs for adults from September to June at the parish itself at different times during the week. This fall we will begin forming small home groups using the same materials to make it even easier for adults and families to continue their formation even after sacramental prep is done.

      Thank you so much for your question. I hope I’ve been of some help!

      Peace and God Bless,

      Eric

  5. Thank you for sharing this, Eric. It is very helpful (and hopeful) for those of us who struggle with parental involvement in the faith formation process. Sadly, simply expending the effort to bring your children to class every week does constitute a major commitment in the lives of over-scheduled families in today’s society. It is easy to get discouraged by the lack of Mass attendance and lack of involvement in the parish life.
    I have three questions:
    – the sessions you have described in your responses in this thread are the only sessions, right? In other words, you don’t have weekly classes for the children only?
    – what Bible Study series are you using?
    – when you say ‘whole family’ do you mean parents and the child preparing for Sacraments or does it include ALL children in the family? Do you require both parents or just one?

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