Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cri de Coeur

This post links to RAnn's Sunday Snippets

a catechist catechizing in a classroom

Last week at one of my favorite catechetical blogs, an article from 2011 was re-posted.  In it, the blogger posed this critical question:

 Are we focused on training catechists or forming catechists?

I offered my big fat opinion:

"Two years later and still an interesting topic. You know what, I can't think of any workshop I've attended that formed any faith. Not that faith was never spoken of, but not in a way that left any catechist knowing more than when she walked in. And I recall only one breakout session that really covered training. It was by an experienced middle-school teacher who was loaded with practical advice on how to run a class. She had an hour, could've filled two hours easy. She was great. She walked the walk.

Generally catechist workshop speakers tend to affirm and encourage, which is ok if you need affirming or encouraging. Others may present a lot of data, but don't show how they or anyone has already used it to be better catechists. In either case, faith formation or training, over a decade I see a real disconnect between the content of workshops, and catechists getting the faith, knowledge, and skills to be good catechists.

On the other hand, as an architect I attend seminars whose speakers offer concrete, specific information and techniques for problem-solving in the construction business, based on their own experience. Typically I come away from them worn out from trying to absorb all the useful info they imparted.

I'd like to see the same thing in the catechetical world. To that end, these are some topics off the top of my head I'd like to see being covered at workshops at a serious adult level:

How I make a lesson plan.

How I run my classroom.

How I cover the Sacraments in general to K-3 kids.

How I teach Baptism to middle-schoolers.

How I prepare 7th-graders for Confirmation.

How I use the CCC as a resource.

How I help youthgroup teens grow in faith.

How I teach the Beatitudes.

How I help first-graders come to know Jesus.

Notice that these are all first-person topics. No-one would speak if they lacked personal success at these tasks; would be speaking from personal experience; and would offer real-world examples from their own classrooms. And because each speaker is giving her personal experience of success, it invites people in the audience to offer alternatives based on their own teaching experience. Finally, each topic may impart both faith-formation and training at the same time.


Thinking about the parlous state of catechesis some more, I do remember Joe Paprocki did a workshop based on his book A Well-Built Faith. It was part formation, part training. I thought it was useful.  I've also attended non-catechetical presentations and lectures by local priests such as Fr. Jay Scott Newman, Fr. Dwight Longenecker, Fr. Michael Cassabon, and Fr. Chris Smith; authors Gerry Matatics, Mark Shea, George Weigel, Scott Hahn, and Pat Madrid; Msgr. Bruce Harbert of ICEL; and Fr. Dennis McManus, whose totally dynamite seminar on the New Translation may have been the most absorbing 3 hours of my life.

This points to much of my catechetical complaining: all those presentations were pitched at generally-interested Catholics, not catechists. Yet their content was much more useful to me as a catechist than what I hear at catechist-specific events. None of them were invited to exhort, affirm, or encourage the audience. They were invited to teach, to form faith; which they all did. Any catechist would have found their lectures to be terrific faith formation opportunities. So as far as catechists' faith formation goes, why do we get cups of milk when run-of-the-mill Catholics get platters of red meat? Of course guys like Mark Shea are stars; but the choice shouldn't be between Mark Shea and pablum.

I already said I favor having can-do catechists and religion teachers from K-to-Youthgroup give how-to sessions for catechist training. Maybe for faith formation, catechists would hear from sisters who teach religion; RCIA lecturers; priests, deacons, seminarians and their professors; street evangelizers; and laypeople who run Bible studies or small groups.

So I complain, gripe, whine, bitch, mule and pule. Because I'm almost 56 years old, and I've been hearing about bad catechesis all my life; and from what I continue to hear, it's still bad. And it's about 3 minutes 'til midnight.

Art by Mark A. Hicks


jdonliturgy said...

Some good points. I totally get it that presenters for catechists should be authentic and speak from their own experience. I also suspect you are not the average catechist.

Authors and publishers of the major textbook series already provide many of the items on your list, so that catechists are guided through lesson planning, activities, age-appropriate presentation of sacraments and doctrine and more.

Most catechists I interact with do not seem to be asking to take on those tasks independent of their textbook's wrap-around lesson plan. When they ask for things, our DRE's tell us they mostly want more crafts and videos - presumably to fill up extra time or to change the pace.

That being said, the NDC says that the most important tool for catechesis is the catechist, not the book. Forming the person of the catechist to be an example of faith, a storyteller and a leader of prayer are the primary ways church leaders are working with catechists these days.

From the perspective of a diocesan leader who helps form catechists I can say it is more true that we need them to be people who have experienced personal conversion, who have a relationship with Christ, and who have an evangelizing spirit. Most sign up to be a catechist thinking it is just being a teacher. Our initial formation stresses that they are in actuality facilitators of the work of the Holy Spirit, walking in faith with their learners for the span of a single school-year. It is more about being an evangelizing faith mentor to the young people than the mechanics of teaching... for which their textbook, other catechists, and their local DRE will be good resources.

Not that there should never be instruction in methodology, but it needs to be subordinate to the catechist's own adult formation into a witness for Christ for any of the methodology to be effective.

Christian LeBlanc said...

Yes, I'm not the average catechist. But I worry about the rest. When I go to workshops and schmooze with the others, they are all ok with their textbook (as I am with our series). But they suffer from not knowing how to take that content (which to some extent can provide some faith-formation) and teach it effectively to the kids. So like you say, they fall back on time-fillers. I think if the catechists had more how-to from the likes of that pistol of a middleschool teacher I mentioned, they'd do better. And other stuff like lesson plans, I have seen the model plans with the forms and stuff. But it seems like the catechists again have trouble making the jump from the forms and written advice to a lesson plan that works for them. I've brought my legal-pad ones to workshops, and over lunch shown exactly how I go from the chapter to the legal pad, to the classroom, and how that works great for me. That sort of how-to would be great: a session where a catechist teaches other catechists how to do it, that is, not leaving them to deal with standard forms and procedures, but the testimony of a living person. And who also invites input from the audience on their lesson-plan successes or frustrations.

Yes, "the most important tool for catechesis is the catechist, not the book" I expect we agree that they have to depend on the book more early in their vocation than later.

" example of faith, a storyteller and a leader of prayer are the primary ways church leaders are working with catechists these days." Wow. I am not seeing it in South Carolina.

"Most sign up to be a catechist thinking it is just being a teacher." Yes, that's what I thought when I started.

"...they are in actuality facilitators of the work of the Holy Spirit, walking in faith with their learners for the span of a single school-year." Yes, I read that sort of thing when I started, but I had to figure out what that would mean in practical terms through my first couple of years in the classroom. I the meantime I was lucky to already have teaching experience.

Kathleen Basi said...

My publicist at Liguori said the religious educators all seemed to be excited about my new book because it was about the Beatitudes; apparently there isn't much out there on the Beatitudes for kids. I'm way out of the loop on that, so I present that just as a matter of interest.

I think you have a good point, though: that feeding your own faith can, should and indeed must be a precursor and an integral part of any training to be a catechist. I like your list of topics.

Christian LeBlanc said...

Interesting that you bring them up- my 180-day school year textbook spends a week on the Beatitudes. But of course that's not the same as how individual catechists succeed or fail at teaching the Beatitudes especially given about 30 class meetings per year. That's why even if x is covered in the book, it's valuable for teachers to learn from those who teach x well.

Barb Schoeneberger said...

I completed the initial phase of Father John Hardon's Marian Catechist program thinking that I might become a catechist. God didn't have that in mind for me, however. Still, one of the greatest things for me in taking that program was listening to Father's tapes on all the subjects. If we're going to live the Faith, let alone teach it, we have to keep learning the Faith. That means reading, attending programs like were enumerated in this post, praying, Adoration, retreats, and frequenting the Sacraments. That's the ongoing formation of us as Catholics. This fuels that ardent love for God that all the techniques in the world can't give, although techniques are important in communicating the ardent love.