I had the pleasure of chatting with a co-worker here at Loyola Press, Julie Berggren, about her role as a Minister of Care at her parish, St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette, and the ongoing formation that the ministers of care are involved in there. First a little background:
SFX Parish has between 80-100 Ministers of Care who visit and bring Holy Communion to the sick and homebound, in hospitals and in homes and nursing homes. Julie herself has been a Minister of Care for 10-12 years and primarily does hospital visits, perhaps 10 patients on each monthly visit. Julie explained to me that ongoing formation is a priority for the Ministers of Care who meet in small groups (of 12-15) monthly, primarily for faith sharing in the form of book discussion. The parish Director of Ministry of Care selects a book for the year (beginning in September), makes an outline of “assigned” reading, and designs discussion questions (if the publisher does not provide a discussion guide for the book being read).
While I was very interested in the books and their content, Julie said that “primarily, it’s about relationships! Meeting as we do gives us a sense of shared identity and a relationship centered around a common purpose.”
I found this to be a great insight because, too often, our approach to adult faith formation is primarily on the content being transmitted. Certainly, knowledge of the faith, is important and is one of the 6 tasks of catechesis, however, so is education for community life! Catholic catechesis forms community and it is within this community that we are strengthened and nourished.
Julie described how the parish “kicks-off” the year for Ministers of Care with a Mass which includes a blessing of hands. She says that their monthly gatherings consist of an opening prayer around a lighted candle followed by the book discussion (they take turns facilitating) and a closing prayer – all told, about an hour once per month. Of course, coffee and rolls are a part of the gathering.
This may not sound like a lot, but this is what adult faith formation looks like or should look like. It needs to be tailored to the needs of the group and should not be a “cookie-cutter” approach and need not be a classroom approach. What’s important is that adults are being formed in community. Too often, Ministers of Care experience what catechists all too often experience: “Here’s your textbook (or in their case, “here’s your pyx“) and good luck!” with no follow up and no ongoing formation.
Hats off to St. Francis Xavier in Wilmette for providing a format for ongoing faith formation of Ministers of Care and thanks, Julie, for giving us a glimpse into your experience!