Finding Middle Ground Between “Churchy” and “Secular” Events

theater - stage

Most adult faith formation activities seem to fall into two disparate categories. On the one hand, we find activities that are unabashedly spiritual in nature. Here are examples from various parish bulletins:

  • First Friday Eucharistic Adoration
  • Rosary Group
  • St. Peregrine Novena
  • Baptismal Preparation
  • Divine Mercy Chaplet
  • Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Christ’s Passion

…and so on. These activities are all fine and good, and the contrast I’m about to set up is not between good and bad or right and wrong. The following activities are also fine and good but are unabashedly secular in nature, usually designed to provide opportunities for parish folks to have fun with one another or to attract people to the parish community. Here are some common examples from various parish bulletins:

  • Men’s Club Sports Viewing Party
  • Women’s Club Fashion Show
  • A Day at the Racetrack
  • Dinner and Candlelight Theater
  • Parish Picnic

…and so on. Again, I’m not promoting one list over the other. What I am pointing out, however, is that we can’t ever seem to find a middle ground. We offer experiences that are either completely “churchy” in nature or completely secular in nature. We are not helping people find God in all things—something that St. Ignatius taught should be at the heart of our spirituality. If we are going to become a Church on the move, we need to invite people to participate in a variety of everyday experiences and help them to find God in these experiences. In other words, we need to bring the two poles together and invite people to experience the sacred in the secular.

What would this look like? It is based, not on trying to get people interested in something, but on looking at what people are already doing and interested in and seeing how to integrate an element of Catholicism into it. Here are some examples:

  • Theater and Theology—an experience of theater (for example, Les Misérables) followed by discussion/presentation of Catholic values exemplified in the story.
  • Volleyball and Virtues for Young Adults—an opportunity for young adults to enjoy an evening of fun playing volleyball, with a break in the middle to explore Catholic virtues.
  • Balance Class: Mind, Body, and Soul—a fitness class with a trained instructor that includes prayer, meditation, and spiritual reading.
  • Running with the Rosary—a running club that introduces participants to the use of a finger Rosary.
  • Camping with Christ—overnight camping experience that includes prayer focused on the Liturgy of the Hours or Lectio Divina.
  • Hiking Toward Holiness—an experience of hiking in which participants reflect on creation spirituality.
  • Fishing for Faith—an experience of fishing that invites participants to spend time in quiet meditation and developing the art of contemplation.
  • Helping Hands Woodworking—an invitation for woodworkers to create items to be given as gifts to those experiencing grief.
  • Gardening with God—an opportunity for folks with a green thumb to come together to get in touch with the rhythms of planting seeds, growing, and harvesting and to be more in touch with God’s creation.
  • Finding God in Photography—an opportunity for those interested in photography to pursue St. Ignatius’s quest to find God in all things.

O.K., I have a penchant for using alliteration, but that’s just to show you that catchy labels can be dreamed up for these types of activities to make them more inviting and to show the connection to spirituality. Think of this as a twist to doing small faith-sharing groups. There’s no rule that such groups need to sit in a circle in someone’s living room with a book or Bible in hand in order to be spiritual or catechetical. For many people, activities such as the above can provide them with a connection between their Catholic faith and some hobby or activity they have interest in. It can be a wonderful form of pre-evangelization—a way of inviting people to begin getting a flavor of the Catholic way of life without being overwhelmed by anything that smacks of being too “churchy” too early on. Finally, activities such as these call for a whole new breed of catechists. No one can expect the pastor and staff personally to run all of the above activities! Instead, it’s an opportunity for parishes to recruit parishioners who have interests in these areas and work with them to form them in faith so that they, in turn, can connect others with the Catholic faith through these experiences.

Have you tried any of these types of programs in your parish? Tell us about your experiences.

About Joe Paprocki 2236 Articles
Joe Paprocki, DMin, is National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press, where, in addition to his traveling/speaking responsibilities, he works on the development team for faith formation curriculum resources including Finding God: Our Response to God’s Gifts and God’s Gift: Reconciliation and Eucharist. Joe has more than 35 years of experience in ministry and has presented keynotes, presentations, and workshops in more than 100 dioceses in North America. Joe is a frequent presenter at national conferences including the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress, the Mid-Atlantic Congress, and the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership. He is the author of numerous books, including the best seller The Catechist’s Toolbox, A Church on the Move, Under the Influence of Jesus, and Called to Be Catholic—a bilingual, foundational supplemental program that helps young people know their faith and grow in their relationship with God. Joe is also the series editor for the Effective Catechetical Leader and blogs about his experiences in faith formation at www.catechistsjourney.com.

8 Comments on Finding Middle Ground Between “Churchy” and “Secular” Events

  1. The most creative I’ve ever seen in our diocese: “Lubi Caritas” — a course for young people on basic car maintenance, with connections to the faith (e.g., oil changes connected to Confirmation).

  2. Once again Joe, you have provided us with oil for our lamps!! I shared with our elementary school principal and she got excited….. and began brainstorming for the school!! God bless you!

  3. Our priest recently held a 6 week series entitled “Reel Spirituality” where he showed a movie of his choosing then led a discussion of the spiritual elements of the film. It created a good deal of buzz in the parish.

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