Parent As The Primary Educaors
Parents In The ForefrontChapter Seven of The Joy of Love (Amoris Laetitia), an Exhortation by Pope Francis, centers around the obligation of parents to be the primary shapers and motivators of their children’s formation. This can not be handed over to others. “The home must continue to be the place where we learn to appreciate the meaning and beauty of the faith, to pray and to serve our neighbor. . . Handing on the faith presumes that parents themselves genuinely trust God, seek him and sense their need for him.” The pope then alludes to the place the parish religious formation program its into this process of passing on the faith. “Family catechesis is of great assistance as an effective method in training young parents to be aware of their mission as the evangelizers of their own family.” (287)
Formation As A Community What is this Family Catechesis that the pope mentions? This is not a new approach. It is being used in many Catholic parishes across the country and beyond. Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Milwaukee, WI is one example. It has been their religious education program for the last eleven years and it is still going strong. They call it GIFT, which stands for Generations In Faith Together, which is not only directed to families with children but to the entire parish community. The parish website describes GIFT as “a true intergenerational learning experience as singles, seniors, couples and families/households of all varieties and forms gather to grow in faith together.” (www.ololmke.org/ministries)
- How does GIFT work? Ten times a year people of all ages gather either on Sunday morning following the 10:30 am Mass or on Monday evenings at 5:30 pm. First comes a meal prepared by talented cooks, supplemented with desserts brought by participants. People come in and sit at round tables wherever they like. After an opening prayer, they pick up plates of delicious food and return to their tables for fellowship. After 45 minutes comes a table activity based on the theme for the weekend. In December, 2016, the theme was “The Joy of the Incarnation.” The table activity was listing all the stars, heroes, actors and athletes that people could think of, ending with “Jesus as our star of life!” After the meal and group project, the children leave the hall for individual formation in separate rooms depending on their age, pre-K through high school. Two or three catechists lead each group out with well-prepared lesson plans in hand.
- Once the children have left, the adults move forward for their own session. The content may differ, but the format is the same. A speaker gives a presentation that is interspersed every 15 minutes with table discus-sion based on questions provided by the leaders. Also there is a video clip that relates to the theme of the day. After an hour and half, the children return for a short wrap-up and final prayer.
- The three staff persons in charge of GIFT mentioned the key ingredients that keep people coming back. These included the sit-down meals, round tables for easier sharing, interactive table discussions based on prepared questions, requiring the parents to attend (not just dropping off their children), creative planning beforehand by staff and core team, volunteer cooks, and providing every family or individual with a bible along with help about how to use it. Those attending are required to pay a tuition fee (scholarships are available where needed), and people are encouraged to bring their own table setup to reduce the use of paper. Most of all, GIFT is successful because of strong support from the pastor and creative planning by the directors. With an average of 370 participants each of the ten weekends, GIFT must be doing something right, not only providing “an effective method in training young parents,” but those of all ages.
Tom Sweetser, SJ