When stay-at-home orders went into effect in mid-March because of the pandemic, many parish religious education programs found themselves facing unimaginable challenges. The main challenge, of course, was how to reach families and children who still had another six weeks of faith formation sessions left in the catechetical year. Many catechetical leaders and catechists all over the country responded with heroic efforts to sustain their programs through virtual contact. One such parish is St. Sylvester, a predominantly Hispanic parish in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood.
According to parish catechetical leader Arnoldo Martinez, the parish went from no online presence to a robust online presence in the matter of a week, due mainly to the determination and efforts of the parish’s catechists. Martinez explains that the idea of doing virtual lessons came from catechists, who proposed doing online experiences for families on Saturdays, at the time when faith formation sessions customarily met. The first session attracted 40 families but quickly increased to 100 families by the time they wrapped up their program at the end of April. Martinez was disappointed that this still represented only 50% of the families enrolled in the parish religious education program. However, given the speed with which things changed and the fact that the parish had no previous online presence, the response is impressive.
Using Zoom technology, the catechists worked as a team to deliver the sessions, which consisted of a greeting, opening prayer, ice-breaker, teaching moment, question and answer, acknowledgment of birthdays, announcements, closing prayer, and dismissal of the children, after which they had a conversation with the parents about sacraments and various concerns.
Looking ahead to the fall, Martinez envisions training catechists to deliver online lessons for individual classes until such time that in-person classes can resume.
I salute people like Arnoldo Martinez and his catechists for mobilizing the parish to reach families in a way they never before imagined—and to pull it off in one week’s time!
I’d love to hear from more of you! How did you finish the catechetical year when the pandemic struck? What are your plans for the fall? Please share your stories through the comments feature below.