Our first session of Finding God Family Catechesis at St. Barnabas Parish in Chicago launched successfully on Sunday, September 17! As I mentioned in a previous post, I am assisting the parish this year in implementing the Finding God Family Catechesis program. Here is a summary of how things went:
- I arrived 45 minutes early and found everything in the church hall set up meticulously by the catechetical leader, Patrick McGowan: round tables with white tablecloths and Finding God welcome pamphlets, tables set for a catered hot breakfast, a big screen projecting “Welcome to the Finding God Family Catechesis Program,” a microphone and portable PA, and a podium.
- I got to work connecting my laptop for the slide show presentation and connecting to the parish Internet as we successfully practiced the other day. Unfortunately, on this day, it chose not to work! Luckily, I had a portable hotspot with me, and after experiencing some delays with that, found a good location for it and successfully connected to the Internet.
- I put a table in place for a prayer center and unpacked the objects that children would carry in procession to prepare a sacred space.
- Folks started arriving at 8 a.m., and children and parents rushed excitedly to get in line for breakfast. Before long, the room was filled with 25–30 families, perhaps 75 people in total. Two gentlemen in the crowd were former students of mine when I taught high school religion at Quigley Seminary South High School back in the 1980s! One was there in the role of catechist, while the other was there with his family to participate in the program.
- After ample time to eat a delicious breakfast, Patrick welcomed everyone at 8:30 a.m. and introduced himself, Deacon Andy Neu (Pastoral Associate), and me. He then turned it over to me for the opening prayer.
- As I got a few things ready for the prayer, we invited the pastor, Fr. Jim Donovan, to welcome the families, thank them, and encourage them, which he did wonderfully.
- I introduced myself a little further and then invited children to volunteer to carry sacred objects (prayer cloth, Bible and stand, flameless candle, plants, holy water bowl, cross, and icon), which they did excitedly. I turned on a Loyola Press 3-Minute Retreat with the theme of family, playing the instrumental music while sending the children up one at a time from their places to hand their sacred objects to Deacon Andy, who prepared the prayer space. We then prayerfully experienced the rest of the 3-Minute Retreat. It was a beautiful way to begin and set the tone for a very special gathering (not just a meeting).
- Deacon Andy did a superb job of addressing the parents and affirming them for the amazing work they are doing raising faith-filled children in such a complex world. He talked about how the family catechesis approach is designed to free them from simply being “chauffeurs,” while empowering them to walk with their children on their faith journey.
- Patrick then explained beautifully what family catechesis is all about and how it works, as we used the slide show for the introductory gathering.
- I then walked parents through how they will facilitate sessions at home and highlighted how they will use the Finding God children’s book, the At-Home Guide, and the Online Session Reviews. We had fun as I pulled up an online review session and asked the children to call out the correct answers for a few questions. I showed them how, if a guess is incorrect, the review offers a hint for where to find the correct answer in the book.
- Patrick explained that we will be printing out the At-Home Guides for each unit and placing them in folders each month for parents to take home. This is a good way to take attendance at monthly meetings, since each family will have a personalized folder.
- Patrick then invited the children to come forward one grade at a time to receive their Finding God children’s books from the catechists. It was a joy to see how excited many of them were to receive this gift and to be greeted by their catechists.
- We invited some parents who have previously done family catechesis to share some thoughts, and three parents shared beautifully about what they liked most about working with their children at home on faith formation.
- Finally, we said a closing prayer and invited everyone to come forward to bless themselves with holy water on their way out. It was nice to see people linger for a long while in conversation with one another and to watch the children buzzing around the prayer table in curiosity. They can’t keep their hands off the hand chime I use to call people to prayer, and I’m happy to let them “play” with it!
Our next session will be on Sunday, October 1. Here are a few details of the plan:
- This will be the first time that children will be sent off with their catechists and Patrick for a lesson while Deacon Andy and I facilitate the parent session.
- We will have folders ready, as mentioned above, with the outlines for unit one from the At-Home Guide for parents and a few other handouts, including one that shows parents of multiple children how to facilitate an at-home session with all of their children at one time.
- The focus of our parent session will be: “Discovering What You Want Out of Life: God’s Invitation and Our Response,” which will unpack the theme of unit one which, for all grades, is God.
- Now that folks have had a chance to meet me, I’m going to float the idea of some families inviting me into their homes to watch first-hand how they lead at-home sessions so that I can report my observations here on Catechist’s Journey.
Here are a few pictures from our first session: