One of the most captivating stories in the Gospel to me has always been Jesus calling Peter out of the fishing boat, inviting Peter to join him on the rough seas in the middle of a storm (Matthew 14:22–33). The same way the Apostles find themselves on the boat, waiting and watching, lay ministers around the nation are waiting and watching to see what will happen with the Church in the coming months. There have been many phrases—“in this together,” “unprecedented,” or “brick-and-mortar”—that we never really thought we would use in such a way as we do now. The word that I have meditated and prayed with throughout these months—and the driving theme of my Faith Formation team at St. Bernadette Catholic Church in Houston, Texas—has been “opportunity.” Although we have been intimidated these past months by crashing waves, howling winds, and loud thunder, there is an opportunity unlike any other, one that we are being called to walk toward together.
The Church is in a time of great transition where people are leaving due at least in part to an outdated implementation of faith formation rooted in programs or modeled after classroom education. No longer can we rely on programs for retention, or use the sacraments as mere ‘gateways.’ Instead, we must develop processes that allow parishioners of all ages and stages of life to encounter the Person of Jesus Christ in community.
Understanding that the Church upholds the dignity and beauty of the family, St. Bernadette Catholic Church has transitioned away from a model of faith formation utilized in many parishes across the country which separates catechesis based on age levels, toward bringing the parish community together in lifelong faith formation.
Whole Family Catechesis is a systematic process of faith formation for all parishioners that implements a weekly liturgical theme, with an emphasis on the Sunday Lectionary. Parishioners gather on Sundays for Whole Family Catechesis which incorporates two different formats. The first consists of gathering families together to take part in age-appropriate catechesis at the same time each Sunday. The second includes special Sundays in which the parish participates in events and celebrations highlighting the rich culture of Catholicism that cannot be conveyed in a classroom setting.
This process of faith formation began in the spring of 2019. The faith formation team began planning out the transition over the summer, and the full implementation happened that fall. In the spring of 2020, St. Bernadette’s, like so many churches, was unable to continue Whole Family Catechesis in person due to the pandemic. This was seen not as a roadblock, but rather as an opportunity to take the philosophy of Whole Family Catechesis, the writings of many Church leaders on the domestic church, and the teaching that parents are the primary catechists of their children one step further.
This past August, the faith formation team once again made a transition to provide resources and engagement for the parishioners of St. Bernadette’s through Whole Family Catechesis Online. Through this development, we now are engaging with parishioners in their own homes, providing them resources, and ministering to their immediate needs as they arise. Now more than ever, we are able to communicate with the parents of our youth and reach out to the adults of the parish in new ways that previously would have been difficult to implement. From weekly Zoom Bible studies, to Catechist teleconferencing, to YouTube live events, to Friday FlockNotes, to the video proclamation of the Gospel, the families of St. Bernadette’s have turned the trials and tribulations of the past several months into an opportunity to build the domestic church. In his book The Way of Catechesis: Exploring our History, Renewing Our Ministry, Dr. Gerard Baumbach poses this question: “How might ‘at Church’ become ‘as Church’?” (9). In other words: what can parishes do to change the mentality that faith formation needs to be done on the church property, and transition toward an understanding of catechesis and evangelization being enriched and supported regardless of the location? This is exactly the question Whole Family Catechesis Online seeks to answer.
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Featured image: The Holy Family with Saint Francis (1620–1630) by Peter Paul Reubens (1577–1640); PD-OLD