As a parent, I know that pleas for volunteers come fast and furious in the fall. These pleas arrive just as we are trying to get our own children to practices, lessons, and school activities on time. When homework, dinner, laundry, and outside job responsibilities are added to this seemingly endless list, I am reminded that my catechists are under a lot of pressure. I ask a lot of these volunteers. As DREs, we must begin the new year by putting ourselves in their shoes to understand their pressures so that we can be a reassuring presence to them. An honest and sincere “thank you” is our first responsibility to our catechists.
I remember when I first decided to volunteer as a catechist in our parish faith formation program. Nervous and excited to be a companion in my child’s and other children’s growing relationship with God, I went to the catechist kick-off meeting. I filled out paperwork as I listened to the program director describe the year ahead. While I don’t remember the specifics of what she said, I do remember her sincere appreciation for our availability, willingness, and eagerness to be another source of God’s loving care for the children we would soon meet. Maya Angelou, one of my favorite authors, describes this phenomenon well: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I carry this important lesson with me always, particularly as I greet catechists at the beginning of the year.
Aside from showing catechists our appreciation, what else should we do? At my parish, we begin each faith formation year with a blessing and a meal on Catechetical Sunday, which takes place this year on September 18. Catechetical Sunday reminds us all that by virtue of our Baptism, we serve an important role in the Church: we echo the Word of God in what we say and what we do so that it ripples throughout the world. While parents are the primary source of handing the faith on to their children, they are assisted in this task by catechists’ work in the classroom. During the Mass on Catechetical Sunday, we invite our catechists forward to honor and bless them in their unique role. I am always deeply moved as I see them stand before the congregation; their commitment to one another, to our children, and to God is noticed by all.
Following Mass, we invite our catechists to join us for a catered brunch. Eggs, bacon, juice, pastries, coffee, and tea make an excellent backdrop to good conversation. We spend the morning catching up with seasoned friends and meeting new people just starting their own journey as catechists. We round out the morning with an inspiring talk from a guest speaker. Sometimes we select a speaker who will offer practical advice for the classroom. At other times, we might discern that a morning of spiritual reflection is needed. Either way, our goal is to center and inspire our companions as we get ready for the year ahead.
Having inspired our catechists, we are eager to go over the details of the coming year. We invite everyone to a kick-off teachers’ meeting. I have meetings for just one or two grade levels at a time. In the past I have held a single meeting that included catechists of all grade levels. However, I have left these large meetings feeling harried because of the large amount of paperwork—as I have to review each catechist’s paperwork and sign-off on them, that led to a lot of down time when dealing with a large number of catechists. As a result, there was not enough time to review general program information, go over the teacher’s guide, walk through the week-by-week curriculum calendars provided for each grade, and other details. But more distressing, the opportunity for closer connection was lost. Grade-level meetings help everyone—catechists and me—feel grounded, confident, and ready for the year ahead. Also, catechists have the chance to meet others who are teaching the same curriculum, allowing them to share ideas. Sometimes they even decide to bring their classes together periodically for certain lessons—a natural fostering of faith as community, which I recognize as a moment of grace.
The greatest gift that we can give to our catechists is the gift of our presence—openly listening to them in a way that lets them know that they are important, accepted, and lovingly supported—just as Jesus did.
How do you prepare your catechists for the new year? Catechists, what kind of preparation do you find most helpful?