Catechists get creative during pandemic

Maria Berryhill, director of faith formation at St. Peter the Apostle Church, attended a training session for RCIA coordinators at the Maloney Center Sept. 14. Parishes across the Archdiocese of Louisville will conduct faith formation in a variety of ways, including in-person instruction and at-home activities. (Record Photo by Jessica Able)

Parishes across the Archdiocese of Louisville are again tasked with developing creative ways to meet the spiritual needs of families. Religious education at the parish level will take a variety of forms this fall and into the spring, according to parish leaders.

This year the Catholic Church will celebrate Catechetical Sunday Sept. 20. The 2020 theme is “I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you.” Catechetical Sunday is an opportunity for the church to formally recognize catechists — those who teach the faith — and for catechists to rededicate themselves to handing on the faith and being a witness to the Gospel, said Art Turner, director of the Office of Faith Formation.

Turner said many parish catechetical leaders have developed both in-person instruction and alternative learning opportunities, including virtual and prepared at-home activities in an effort to meet the needs of parishioners.

“With some parishes doing some or all formation virtually the big question is how do we engage children and families without creating a burden on already overwhelmed parents,” Turner said in an interview last week. “Yes, we want to have a quality program, but we need to consider all factors.”

Parents, he noted, are coping with an ever-increasing and changing workload at home. Some have lost jobs or are still on furlough. If a parent is out of work, he said, then parish leaders could cancel the program fee. 

“If that means we have to do less, then we do less. There has to be a balance on providing a quality program and not creating a burden,” he said.

Tammy Kessler, coordinator for children’s formation at St. Patrick Church, said she approaches her ministry with parents in the forefront of her mind.

“Everything I do is tailored to help parents make it easy to infuse faith into their day-to-day lives,” Kessler said.

Many families have not returned to in-person Mass, she said, so she is focused on assisting families to build up the domestic church. 

One of the programs St. Patrick will offer this fall is “Carryout Crafts for Christ,” a program designed to help families incorporate their faith into their daily lives. The craft kit for September is intended to help families create a prayer space. The kit includes an altar cloth, candle, crucifix, rosary and holy water. 

The parish’s religious education program will begin this weekend with in-person instruction. Face coverings and social distancing guidelines will be followed. 

An at-home learning option for families that do not feel comfortable sending their children in-person will be available, too, Kessler said.

“My hope for families is that if they are unable to come back to in-person church, and even if they are not watching online, that they just take a minute every day to look at and be reminded of their relationship with Jesus and their relationships with one another,” Kessler said. 

The parishes that make up the Dixie Catholic Faith Formation (DiCaFF) — Incarnation, Mary Queen of Peace, St. Lawrence and St. Paul churches — don’t plan to host in-person religious education this year. The parishes will put together packets for families with a step-by-step checklist for parents, said Jacqui Rapp, pastoral associate at Mary Queen of Peace.

“The catechists will be reaching out to the families … to make sure things are going well on a weekly basis,” Rapp said. “We’re also going to do continuing education for our catechists monthly so that they know what material is being covered that following month and they will still be connected.”

Families at Immaculate Conception Church in LaGrange, Ky., were able to choose from a selection of in-person classes and online offerings. Fifty-one families, including 86 children, chose to do all assignments at home. Families learning remotely will have a mix of online classes for sacrament preparation and parent-led instruction for other children. Fifty-nine families (120 children) will attend classes in person at the parish. The children are divided into two groups and will attend every other week. A class will have no more than 10 students at a time and safety practices, such as face coverings and social distancing, will be observed. Parents will supplement instruction at home, said Susan Ashby, director of children’s ministry at Immaculate Conception.

Maureen Larison, a consultant for the Archdiocese of Louisville’s Office of Faith Formation, said many parishes are still finalizing plans for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. 

“My general advice to parish RCIA coordinators is to meet in small groups only if it can be done safely and otherwise use a virtual platform for everything possible,” Larison said. “I think we can be creative in our approach as long as we are faithful to the intention of the process.”

The religious education staff at St. Patrick Church created Carryout Crafts for Christ, a program designed to help families build a domestic church. The kit for September included items to create a prayer space at home, including an altar cloth, holy water, crucifix and candle. Parishes across the Archdiocese of Louisville will conduct faith formation in a variety of ways including in-person instruction and at-home activities. (Photo Special to The Record)

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