PEP Newsletter

Ideas For Your Parish

     ____________________________________________                                                                                                            August, 2021

Focus On the Family

            Many Catholic parishes have been experimenting with alternative approaches to religious formation. One example is Christ the Good Shepherd Parish in Spring, TX.  It has decided to do away with classroom instruction and focus on family interaction and spiritual growth.  The pastor, Fr. James Burkart, wrote, “Last September (2020) we completely re-visioned our faith formation process from a class-centered model to a family (domestic Church) centered model.  We have eliminated on-going, on-campus ‘classes.’  In their place, our faith formation department is producing weekly Family Guides.  The classroom is now in your living room, your deck, the clubhouse of your apartment complex.  These guides are emailed out weekly to every family for whom we have an email address.”  “Family” includes all varieties of living experiences present in the parish.

            Each week’s Guide includes a reflection question to stimulate a discussion that could take place any time during the week.  The question for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time on July 25, was, “What does it mean to support the ministry of the Church so that many people come to know and love Jesus Christ.”  Following this question there are numerous resources to help stimulate and guide a family interchange.  Two ideas offered for that week’s question included:  1) Name some of the work that the Church does?  2) How do you think the Church helps people to know and love Jesus Christ?  The pastor stated, “If families are to thrive, we must learn to practice our faith in the home and in the world in which we live. The future of our children and our entire society depends on it.”


Gathering Groups of Families

As a way of affirming, encouraging and supporting the at-home discussions, the second step is the formation of groups of families that would meet every four to six weeks to share and discuss what each family talked about over the previous weeks.  Volunteers are recruited to facilitate the small groups, receiving both guidance and support from the parish staff.  One resource for the facilitator is a sheet containing “Key Points for Small Faith Groups.”  It offers such helps as, “There are no wrong answers in faith sharing.” “Take your time. Silence is okay.” “Listen and affirm each other.” “Give everyone a chance to share.”  Because the parish has experienced small faith group sharing in the past through “Renew” and other similar programs, many parishioners have welcomed this initiative and have become involved.  Some groups include children while others have only adults.  Where children are present, the weekly Family Guide provides suggestions and activities for different ages, including pre-school, elementary, junior high, senior high and adults.  Ivana Meshell, Director of Lifelong Faith in the parish wrote, “Through the small Faith Groups, we learn and grow together as we become more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.” 

Periodic “Flock” Events

The third phase of the process are parish-wide gatherings of the Faith Groups. The word “flock” comes from the name of the parish, Christ, the Good Shepherd.  Three or four times a year, a large event is planned that takes place on parish grounds.  Speakers who appeal to various age groups supply the energy and motivation to “Go Deeper” in their faith and care for others.  People then divide into random groups that do not include those with whom they are familiar.  The focus is on more than sharing faith, it is putting their faith into action.  They pick an area of outreach to work on and then strategize ways that it might become a reality.. 

The entire process begins in the home, offering helps and suggestions for sharing faith and growing spiritually.  As a support in this effort, families are encouraged to share their experiences in small groups.  These include a variety of approaches depending on the ages of those involved.  Finally, these small groups meet in one large parish assembly,  This approach to religious formation may prove helpful elsewhere as well.