Last week, I told you about the innovative faith formation program, Families Living Faith, at St. Jude Parish in New Lenox, IL. Today, I’d like to provide a few more details, background, and observations about this unique approach that takes seriously the role of parents as their child’s first catechist.
- “Getting there” was not easy and required a great deal of planning. listening, and trial and error over a number of years.
- The parish first attempted to move from a traditional weekly religious education program to a blended program involving weekly RE sessions for kids as well as monthly intergenerational gatherings. This was found to be incredibly taxing on all involved.
- The parish then took several years to research and listen before launching the Families Living Faith program. This required educating parents, families, and the parish about this new approach and, even so, a not-insignificant number of families chose to leave the program.
- The pastor, Fr. Don Lewandowski, is totally committed to the program/approach and was willing to take the risk of some people being unhappy/leaving.
- The entire staff recognizes that the success of this approach requires a huge “letting go” in order to trust that parents are indeed working with their kids at home on their lessons. They feel, however, that the present traditional structure of RE also has huge risks involved—namely, trusting that what we teach kids will “stick” with little or no parental involvement.
- The approach takes seriously the concept of the “parish as the curriculum,” which is described in the Church document, Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us. (118) To that end, in addition to the monthly gatherings and the at-home lessons, families are required to participate in the Explore Four component of the program to form families through participation in the life of the parish. Families are expected to explore four (or more) life of the parish events that support faith formation in the areas of the four pillars of our Catholic faith: Creed, Sacraments, Moral Life, and Prayer. Participation in these events is recorded with the Explore Four Reflection Form developed by the faith formation team. Likewise, parents are also encouraged to turn in a Monthly Mass Reflection in order to help families connect Mass and daily living.
- Obviously, there is significant record-keeping and administrative work involved in this approach. These are ably handled by the program assistant, Berni Kacor.
- The staff is not sure if the Families Living Faith format has had an impact on overall Sunday Mass attendance for families involved in the program. Anecdotally, they would like to be able to say that it has, but they have not done any formal assessment in this area to back that up.
In my own opinion, this approach warrants a great deal of attention and study. Yes, there are risks involved (losing families to parishes with traditional programs; trusting that parents are working with their kids on lessons at home, etc.) however, the traditional structure/format in place for RE has significant flaws, the greatest of which is the lack of parental involvement. If we are to take seriously the following principles:
- Parents are their child’s primary catechist.
- The parish is the curriculum.
- Adult faith formation is the primary form of catechesis.
…then approaches such as St. Jude’s Families Living Faith program are to be applauded and watched closely.