“The more the merrier!” is my philosophy about volunteers in my religious education classroom. I’m always on the lookout for adults who will share their talents with the children. (I’m fortunate that the parents I ask rarely say no.) I ask my parents at the beginning of the year if anyone has a talent or skill to share. Parents who sew or play an instrument are good allies.
Having a different person in the class can change the dynamic. I find that the children behave a little better and seem to pay closer attention to someone different.
Keep your eyes and ears open when you talk to parents; often I hear some tidbit in a conversation that I can build on. A couple of years ago at our saints’ parade, one of the girls came dressed as St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. She told me that her mom had made the tissue-paper flowers that were part of her costume. A few weeks later that mom was in our class, helping us make roses to celebrate Our Lady of Guadalupe.
Once I asked parents at prayer time how they learned prayers when they were kids. One of the dads mentioned his Polish-speaking grandmother taught him to pray in Polish. He laughed and said he still remembered how to pray the Our Father and Hail Mary in Polish. I filed that nugget away, and in May I asked him if he would come in and teach the class to pray the Hail Mary in Polish. He came in way more prepared than I ever expected! He taught them about Our Lady of Czestochowa too.
Because the children seem to sing better when we sing songs that are more upbeat, I’ve invited musicians who serve in the parish music ministry to help out. A friend of mine is a musician at our family Mass. Almost every year, he brings his guitar to class on the Feast of Christ the King. We sing “Bring Forth the Kingdom” in the prayer circle. The kids and parents love it. This year, one of my students has a grandmother that sings in the choir. I’ve already approached her to come in and sing with the class for Easter.
While we all may instinctively know we have special gifts from God, there may be those who are a bit reluctant to share them publicly or who never considered they would be applicable to a lesson in religious education class. The Polish-speaking dad never thought that his grandmother’s prayer lessons could be taught to others, but he was more than willing to share when asked. Sometimes, all it takes is a gentle nudge of encouragement or simply thinking outside the box about how someone’s skills can be used in the classroom. As the catechist, you have to be willing to ask, encourage, and support that person. Make sure your students are respectful of the person’s time and talent and are grateful at the end.
One of the possible outcomes is that a parent can see how fulfilling it can be to share their gifts and their faith with our young people. We can pray that the experience will lead them to consider if they are called to share regularly as a catechist or other parish volunteer.
One important caveat: When I invite adults into my classroom, I’m always careful to clear it with my DRE in advance. Rarely are these volunteers VIRTUS-certified, so I want to make sure that she is aware of the plans. Of course, we always have our regular catechists in the room, but this way, the DRE stays in the loop.