I was about to meet with a parent who had a reputation for being overly assertive. I was a little nervous, but as a catechetical leader, it was my duty to support my ministry team. This parent had upset a second-grade catechist; she had tried to reason with him to no avail. She pleaded with me to intercede.
He sat across the table from me, whipped out his phone and rather ceremoniously set the timer. “I will give you 15 minutes to state your case as to why I was asked to meet with you.” Stunned, I steadily responded, “Tell you what, I’ll give you 10 of those 15 minutes to state what is on your mind.”
Fifteen minutes turned into an hour as he ran the emotional range from anger to tearful frustration. For the first ten minutes he spoke of his encounter with the second-grade catechist—I discovered that the issue was just a simple miscommunication over a recent schedule change, which was easily resolved. He moved quickly from this encounter to the personal and family issues he was struggling with. I listened with compassion and acknowledged that he was dealing with many stressors in his life. He admitted that he was unnecessarily abrasive and that his communication style could use some work. When we finally emerged from our meeting, I asked if I could pray with him. He responded, “Not now,” which I translated as, “In the future, yes.”
I updated the pastor, who expressed appreciation for keeping him informed. I then followed up with the catechist. Together we met with the parent to pray and respectfully discuss his core concern. The catechist—appreciative of this level of support—continued to be an enthusiastic volunteer for several more years before moving to another town.
This encounter illustrates the first of four principles I use for retaining catechists: support. I will discuss the other principles—collaboration, affirmation, and public recognition—in future articles, or you can read my book, Cultivating Your Catechists, now for more on how to retain catechists.
Directors of religious education support catechists in a variety of ways, including properly matching their abilities to ministry assignments, praying with and for them, and providing a mentor.
Before making assignments, it is essential to consider the abilities of your catechists. When you assign a catechist to a classroom that best suits her or his gifts, talents, and experience, you are setting her or him up to succeed. However, unexpected challenges (such as inter-personal conflicts with a parent) can force the catechist outside her or his comfort zone. Your ability to lend support as a catechetical leader can help to restore balance.
Praying with and for Catechists
Pray without ceasing! Be a model of prayer, and teach others—children and parents alike—how to pray. Particularly in tense situations, prayer sets a proper tone and orients the conversation toward God. The Holy Spirit comes to our aid without fail, even if it takes a bit of time for an issue to be resolved.
A catechetical leader is a trusted person with experience, who supports the growth and development of another. Modeling positive behaviors, including emotional support and guidance, is not only the right thing to do, it goes a long way toward retaining catechists.
How do you support your catechists? What have you done that your catechists have found helpful in supporting them?