RE, CCD, CYO, Sunday school
I’ve been thinking a lot about our approach to Religious education for children. Just taking a step back and thinking creatively.
As I’ve been mulling these thoughts around a bold assertion comes to mind which goes like this, “the perfection of religious education is when all the children go home and they are formed by their parents.” My thought is that the perfection of Sunday school is to put itself out of business.
Now, to acknowledge my bias; I was home schooled, and while I acknowledge the weaknesses of homeschooling, this experience helps me to challenge the standard format of “going to school.” My bias is that school, and RE programs, are supplementary to what the parents are doing at home. I would say that I instinctively resist the conveyor belt of K-College-Work force. I feel even stronger about this when it comes to RE. Therefore, I believe that home education needs to be emphasized and that group activities at Church should only supplement and be a fruit of this home education.
So, let’s think this through and talk about what’s happening right now with Religious Education programs. At this moment parishes enlist the time and efforts of parents to come and teach the children of other parents, their faith, while the other parents go to have coffee and donuts. In the public education system, parents send their children to learn at these institutions because the teachers have years of special formation that the parents want to take advantage of. However, the parents in our religious education programs have no such special training. The only real reason that they are teaching the children is because they were generous enough to do so.
So, we put all this money, real estate, effort, and energy to have parents teach the children of other parents their faith. To reinforce this we stamp this big “imperative” on it; not only as a requirement for the parents but an imperative in our own minds. We, the Catholic culture of the United States, can’t imagine a Church without a big RE building. A parish must have Sunday school!
Or maybe it doesn’t? Maybe the Church itself is supposed to be the educational building? Maybe we’ve been unconsciously enabling parents to not fulfill their baptismal roles of being the primary educators of their children in the life of Faith? Maybe the ones who need the formation are the parents, not the children; because when the parents are formed the children will follow?
In my last parish a wonderful program was proposed; family RE. This RE program consisted of families getting together on Sunday at one of their houses and the parents teaching their children the lesson. It was a novel ideal, however, it fell apart. Why? Well, primarily because it couldn’t compete with the convenience of our standard RE program. Why put the effort into teaching my own children when I can get someone else to do it.
What I’m proposing is not so much the end of Religious Education but a rethinking. An approach that stops enabling and start empowering and supporting. We need to start thinking we would rather have children’s RE fail and Adult RE succeed then the other way around, and unfortunately, in our current model, Adult RE is given lip service and children’s RE consumes us.
So, with all of that said, how might we envision a different approach?
Well, first, I want take a big bite of humble pie and acknowledge that no plan outlives first contact with the reality on the ground. These are just ideals, take them and apply them as they fit. I definitely don’t want to place myself as smarter than anyone else working hard in the ministry of religious education. I’m just being creative.
So, with that disclaimer, here are my pie in the sky thoughts.
First, people come to us for the Sacraments; Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Communion, Confirmation, Marriage. Currently many parishes require children to go through formation for First Communion and First Reconciliation. So, the first thing that I would do is stop requiring that children attend sessions but instead have parents attend sessions. Of course, since the parents are in formation sessions, the kids would need someone to look after them; so fun, catechetical session would teach them the fundamentals that they need in second grade to receive Holy Communion and First Reconciliation.
However, before the first child reached second grade, the adult faith formation would start with the Baptism of the parents first child. After, or before, the birth of their first child, they would attend a weekend retreat of spiritual renewal, or a month long catechetical renewal. Whatever the format, the pre Baptismal formation would be strengthened. Every subsequent Baptism would require a shorter time of spiritual renewal, perhaps simply a Holy Hour of renewal.
Kindergarten and Preschool formation would perhaps consist of Summer Bible School. When the kids reach 1stgrade the parents would begin Faith Formation until the children receive their sacraments in 2nd grade. In this formation program they would be introduced to the ideal of Family RE. All new parents to the parish would attend at least one year of Adult Faith formation in which they would be connected to the Family RE programs already in play. These family RE units groups would communities of Faith.
Once they have received First Holy Communion the children and parents would participate in Family RE. Parents would not need to attend Adult Faith formation for any other children as long as they are participating in the Family RE. Therefore, eventually the only ones who are going through the Adult Faith Formation are those who have not gone through it before.
Now, for Confirmation; the high school candidates would continue the path of Family RE but with complimentary programs: retreats, gatherings, participation in ministry, guest speakers. During this formation I would also incorporate a solid catechesis concerning marriage, which often gets neglected. If the Candidates for Confirmation have not been participating in Family RE (that is, haven’t had Catechesis in years), then I would create as separate program for them, even a type of RCIA.
So, in light of this, what is the RE director doing. Well, he or she is in her car every Sunday going from one house to another making sure the programs are healthy and vibrant. She has two or three volunteers who are taking care of the children of the parents who are in Adult Faith formation, which is happening in the Church. She is organizing special events for those preparing for Confirmation. Perhaps she is also organizing fun, communal events at the parish for all the families.
I could also envision the creation of complimentary ministry programs for kids. I would exempt all Altar Servers from RE and create a program of formation that is particular to them, with a system of achievement and recognition. They, and all home schoolers, would have a completely exempt status. I could also imagine a catechetical music program, a children’s choir where children could sing and learn the faith at the same time.
To round it out, I would also incorporate some sort of spiritual renewal for those preparing for marriage, a catechetical element with an emphasis on marriage and theology of the body. We’ll leave that unfinished since marriage preparation is its own topic.
What we’ve done with children’s RE has been very fruitful. I would hate to put the program in a negative light. My intent is not to chastise but to think differently; let me know what you think of these