“Do you work during the summer?”
No matter how often I hear this question, I am surprised by its suggestion. Do others really believe there is nothing to do once the religious education programs wrap up for the school year? Although the pace may slow somewhat (aside from summer programs and Vacation Bible School), most DREs have plenty to keep them busy during June, July, and August. Summer is often a time for me to reflect on what my team has accomplished through the past year, evaluate the direction we are heading, and strategize for the year ahead. While we may not be actively running programs, effective DREs are certainly busy and productive developing goals during the summer.
Summer is the time to define where we are going and how we will get there. What steps can we take to establish reasonable and attainable goals and expectations for catechists, students, families, parish staff, and the parish as a whole? I have found the most practical way to develop goals for the coming year is to consider all those whom we serve and all the ways we are asked to serve.
Who are we asked to serve? As we plan for the coming year, we are to consider the faith formation needs of our primary beneficiaries: catechists, children, and parents. We might ask ourselves some relevant questions: Who are the people I serve? (Try to visualize specific individuals.) What do they really need to help them grow in faith? What challenges do they face in participating in our programs and events? What prevents them from attending? How can we make it easier for them to participate? How can we help them nurture a lived faith in the midst of their busy lives?
Who else are we called to serve within our ministry as catechetical leaders? Who do you come into contact with on a regular basis? How well do you serve the parish secretary? the bookkeeper? the maintenance staff? the pastor? While we may not be directly responsible for the faith formation of these people, we are certainly called to serve them as we go about our tasks. How can we include them in our plans for the coming year? How can we work collaboratively with them for the good of the parish community?
And just exactly what is it we catechetical leaders are asked to do anyway? What is our primary mission in religious education?
Jesus tells us to, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20). How do our efforts lead others to discipleship? What does the Church tell us about our ministry? The six tasks of catechesis provide our instructions for how we are to go about making disciples. A good DRE will be familiar with these six tasks and use them to develop an effective catechetical ministry within the context of parish life. Attention to each of these areas—knowledge of the Catholic faith, liturgical education, moral development, prayer, missionary initiation, and community life—in practical and lived experience will guide us as we develop our programs. We might want to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses in each of these areas and brainstorm ways to improve where we are weakest. Including a team of other leaders to help identify our strengths and weaknesses can also give us new insight and inspiration.
Seek the guidance of the Spirit through prayer and regular reflection throughout your planning and preparation time. Summer, while certainly an active and engaging time in our ministry, is also a good time to rest in God’s grace, seeking inspiration during this relatively quiet time of year.