Growing faith in today’s parish
Read one parish’s story of moving adult faith formation from the classroom to effective, parish-wide conversion.
The U.S. bishops are calling for strong, complete, and systematic catechesis for all parish and diocesan community members (see Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us: A Pastoral Plan for Adult Faith Formation in the United States). Our parish, realizing that many of our parishioners felt that their “ongoing” faith formation stopped at about the eighth grade, set out to meet the bishops’ challenge. The hunger was apparent; at issue was how to best feed that hunger.
Begin with conversion
We had previously tried the classroom, lecture-based approach. The same few people attended consistently; the larger portion of the community avoided these events with equal consistency. Fortunately, the catechumenate process provided us with insight into a new method. We dissected the process and looked at some of the components individually. Inquiry, conversion, Scripture, prayer, individual and group faith sharing, ritual, and community seemed to be specific pieces that worked.
At about the same time we held a “Living with Christ” retreat as outlined in Handbook for Success in Whole Community Catechesis (Twenty-Third Publications). About 50 parishioners participated. Those who attended, as well as those who worked the retreat, had a genuine conversion experience. They found that their spiritual life was energized, and they felt a greater need to live out their faith life in service to others. But it was not only their desire to serve that was enhanced; their desire to delve further into their faith also grew. The retreat had shown them the value of using prayer, Scripture, and faith sharing as tools to learn more about their faith, and they wanted an opportunity to continue to find new and exciting ways to continue using these tools.
We found our answer in the Growing Faith Project (Twenty-Third Publications). The content is based on the Catechism, and the format is easy to follow. Parishioners found the graphics aesthetically pleasing, and the reflections and faith sharing questions led them to stimulating and comfortable dialog.
The structure of the gathering looked like this:
- Gather in a home or a pleasant facility room at the parish.
- Prepare the environment (candles, symbols, sacred music, enthroned Bible, cloths of liturgical color, etc.).
- Make sure everyone gets introduced to one another and feels acknowledged.
- Provide food and drink.
- Open with prayer.
- Break open the Word.
- Use a faith question of the week to reflect on the Scripture.
- Use the process outlined in the Growing Faith Facilitator’s Guide to lead the group through reflections on teachings of the church, faith sharing, exchanges of beliefs, doubts, and concerns.
- Provide printed aids to facilitate note taking or journaling during the session.
- Close with prayer. Be sure to provide the time and place for the next session.
Because of the positive response we received from the post-retreat group, our parish has decided to adopt the Growing Faith materials for use in our lenten small Christian communities as well. Our goal is to eventually offer our entire parish community the opportunity to share in a conversion experience, such as the “Living with Christ” retreat, and then offer the opportunity to participate in ongoing faith formation through the Growing Faith process.
The members of our community who are currently using the Growing Faith process continue to show significant signs of transformation and spiritual growth. They have affirmed that their prayer life has been expanded, their active participation in both liturgical and parish-sponsored social events has increased, and they find their involvement is more fulfilling than ever before. They evangelize in church and in the world, sharing their faith stories with others. Several parishioners have had such a positive experience with the process that they have joined the parish adult faith formation ministry in order to actively assist in promoting this process parish wide.
Jesus tells us that: “I came so that [all people] might have life and have it more abundantly” (Jn 10:10). This is the gift Jesus gives to the church. As church, we are called to live out that gift of life to its fullest by experiencing our faith to its fullest and then sharing that faith with others. As time passes and our faith grows toward fullness, our hope is that we grow in the fullness of the mission of the church as well. In focusing on adult faith formation our parish seeks to facilitate active participation of all the faithful in the mission of the church. Through formation we generate new disciples and we rejuvenate older ones. In committing to the Growing Faith process, we commit our energy and our resources to ongoing, lifelong faith formation and we commit ourselves to continuing the mission of Jesus. TP
Catechism of the Catholic Church
General Directory for Catechesis
The Growing Faith Project
Handbook for Success in Whole Community Catechesis by Bill Huebsch
Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us
*This article appeared in the January 2007 issue of Today’s Parish.