At the Center: A Foundation for Adult Faith Formation (Part III) – Janet Schaeffler, OP

Libby MahowaldBlog, Catechetical Leader, Featured

In previous issues of Catechetical Leader, we explored the necessity of building adult faith formation on a solid foundation. A stable foundation consists of:

  • a strong vision, followed by
  • naming our presumptions, and then
  • evaluating the structures already present in the parish that support and encourage lifelong formation.

This foundation has to come before we can begin to discern and plan programs. In many ways, this behind-the-scenes work will become the most important activity of the staff and the adult faith formation committee. It will bear much fruit! 

In our last issue we explored establishing a strong vision (and continually refreshing it) and examined the presumptions that might hinder our ministry as well as the healthy and challenging presumptions upon which we want to build our ministry of adult faith formation.

Let’s turn our attention now to evaluating structures. “Structures” are all the ways in which resources, time, and space are used to support the vision and the healthy presumptions of the parish or program. 

We scrutinize the present structures in our parish because nothing should be happening that isn’t used as a possible opportunity to educate, form, and deepen the faith of all our adults (as well as parishioners and visitors of all ages). Upon hearing that, we might think it is unrealistic or contrived. Yet we know that the “parish is the curriculum.” Everything we do teaches. We’re called to intentionally look at all we do and ask how we can maximize everything for deeper and deeper learning.

Let’s explore just a few of the many parish structures that have the potential to support the vision of continual and constant adult faith formation.

Our communications

What modes of communication exist in our parishes? Are we using the multiple ways of communication today both to keep people connected and to keep people informed and formed? By maintaining a constant connection, we show ourselves to be a warm, welcoming community that is committed to growth and to continued deepening in our understanding and living of Gospel values.

With our various types of communication (letters, newsletters, parish bulletins, emails, social media, website), what are we communicating? Announcements, news, and information? Those are necessary, but adult faith formation goes beyond that. We build upon information to provide formation for the purpose of transformation. In addition to the lector schedule, do we share a short reflection on the Word in our lives? In addition to news and notes for parents, do we share an idea for a family Advent custom? Might we include in parish bulletins a section for learning and growing and new ideas about living our faith? Could we periodically insert into the bulletin a one-page flier (purchased or made in-house) about the liturgical year or a challenging everyday question accompanied by the wisdom of the church? Do our websites include links to various sites for prayer, meditation, and learning about Scripture or spirituality?

Our places and spaces

The environment that we walk into prepares us to receive all that is waiting for us. For instance, consider all the spaces where your parishioners and visitors might wait. What is available in the gathering space, in the places where people might take a break? What items are available for them to take home for continued learning? 

Enhancing experiences

Our parishes and communities invite us to important service and outreach opportunities. How do these experiences end? Do we provide time and space for reflection on them, so people have a chance to realize what happened to them—not just what they did for others, but how they themselves were they changed? John Dewey reminds us, “We do not learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience.”

People and relationships 

Some of the “structures,” too, are people structures. Our Hearts Were Burning within Us reminds us of the way Jesus ministered: joining people in their daily concerns, walking with them on the path of life, asking them questions, listening closely as they talk about their joys, hopes, griefs, and worries.

In our parishes, in addition to being given a warm welcome, are people cared about and asked about their life concerns beyond the general query, “What are you doing later today?” At a parish function, people might tend to sit with their friends; does someone in leadership gently connect them to others who are dealing with similar questions, griefs, and anxieties?

New structures

Once you’ve examined and utilized all the present structures, what new ones might you establish to meet the needs of your parish?

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Reflection and Conversation Questions

  • What structures are present in our parish right now that support our vision for adult faith formation?
  • Might there be some structures and attitudes (within parish staff, within parishioners) that “tell” people that formation is just for children and youth?
  • Is there someone—or some practice—that encourages parish staff and leadership to continually examine the reality that “everything we do teaches”? Do we periodically evaluate all the practices, guidelines, programs, communication of the parish and ask: what is this teaching our parishioners, our visitors, and our neighbors?
  • What new structures might we establish to meet the adult faith formation needs of our parish?

Next Steps

Once we have laid the foundational work (forming an enthusiastic vision, examining presumptions, and evaluating structures), we are ready to design, implement, and then repeatedly evaluate the programs for our parish. We continually go through the entire cycle:

  • creating the vision
  • naming the presumptions
  • examining the structures 
  • designing programs
  • evaluating the fruits 

Reflection Questions following Service

“Service without reflection is like eating without digestion. There is a need to reflect on why we serve, how the service experience affects us and what it says about our relationship with God, others and society at large.”

(Joseph Reganato, “Building Community One Day at a Time,” Momentum

November/December 2006, pp. 24–27)

  • Self-awareness:
      • What have I learned about myself emotionally, socially, intellectually, and spiritually?
      • What talents or gifts of mine did this involvement in service call for?
      • How did I feel about sharing myself in service to others?
      • What was my reason for doing this?
      • What surprised me most about this experience?
      • How will I follow up on the learning that I achieved?
  • Other awareness:
      • Was the service necessary? Why?
      • Do I see the poor, hungry, or homeless differently, and if so, how?
      • What was the reaction of those who were the recipients of my efforts?
      • What did I learn?
      • What did I learn about “the other” and my ability to encounter someone different from myself?
      • What were some of challenges that this person/this community were facing?
  • Worldview:
      • How has my worldview been affected?
      • Do I see more connections, concerns, conflicts? If so, what are they?
      • What are some future ways I could be of service?
  • Faith development:
      • Was this connected with anything in Scripture? With our faith?
      • Has my understanding of Scripture, faithfulness, or my relationship with God been affected? If so, how?
      • How did I meet Jesus?
      • Will my life be different because of this opportunity?

Formation through Our Communications

Here are some links that could be included for our parishioners in the Sunday bulletin or the parish website:

  • A Concord Pastor Comments: http://concordpastor.blogspot.com/
  • Bread 4 Today: http://www.cssr.org.au/bread4today/
  • Catholic Climate Covenant: http://www.catholicclimatecovenant.org/OurStory
  • Daily Reflections: http://www.usccb.org/bible/reflections/
  • Prayer Poems—Poetic Reflections for Sundays and Feast Days: http://www.prayerpoems.org/
  • Scripture Reflections from Catholics on Call: http://catholicsoncall.org/archive-scripture-reflections 
  • Simple Living: http://www.gratefulness.org/t/simple.htm
  • We Are Salt and Light: http://www.wearesaltandlight.org/