By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Advent, meant to be a time of joyful anticipation in the church calendar, has become a blur of frantic activity for some families. The season squeezes Christmas shopping, holiday events at school and work, decorating and wrapping presents into just a few weeks.
Four parishes that share a religious education program didn’t want classes to add to the frenzy, nor did they want families to overlook the significance of the season.
They decided to cancel December classes. In their place, Incarnation, Mary Queen of Peace, St. Lawrence and St. Paul churches invited families to attend a simple meal at Incarnation on Nov. 28. A Why Catholic? group from Incarnation prepared the meal. (Read more about the Incarnation Why Catholic? group here.)
After dinner, parish catechists guided the families through various booths that presented information about the liturgical year. The families also received a questionnaire about what they learned — something
they’re expected to study throughout Advent in preparation for Christmas.
Judy Stinson, child formation coordinator at St. Lawrence and Incarnation churches, said the four parishes are trying to adapt to the needs of families.
“Families are struggling; families work all the time,” she said. “Priorities have shifted and changed. That’s how it is these days. Sometimes it’s hard to put God first. We all struggle with that.
“We can help in the religious education program to give the families some time off and bring back to their remembrance why the church does what it does,” she added.
The religious education program served by the four parishes is known as DiCaFF. It stands for Dixie Catholic Faith Formation and it’s in its sixth year. Enrollment stands at 153 children from about 100 families.
Last week’s event, which drew a large portion of the program’s families, was funded by a grant from the Catholic Education Foundation.
Among those in attendance were Dante Gee, an eighth-grader at Conway Middle School, and Pat Clark, Dante’s confirmation sponsor and a friend of his grandmother.
As the pair looked at the booth centered on Advent, Clark pointed out a card that explained the story of St. Nicholas.
“Do you know about St. Nicholas Day?” Clark asked Dante. He said he had not heard of the day. “It’s Dec. 6 and it’s a tradition.
“We used to get oranges. We set a bowl on our kitchen table,” she explained. “In the morning, we would get oranges and maybe nuts.”
At the next booth, devoted to the Christmas season, Dante signed an oversized birthday card addressed to the infant Jesus.
In the booth focused on the Easter Triduum, families learned about Holy Week. The Triduum begins at sundown on Holy Thursday and ends at sundown on Easter Sunday.
Melanie Findley, the catechist who worked at that booth, asked families to read a display about the Triduum and then she quizzed them.
“What is the symbol for Holy Thursday?” she asked her listeners. She also asked, “Why did Jesus wash their feet?”
She asked questions about each of the days leading up to Easter. Children, one after the next, answered correctly. She ended the lesson by telling children that Catholics venerate the cross on Good Friday and that some people kiss the cross. Then she gave each child a chocolate Hershey’s Kiss to help them remember.
Stinson said she’s hopeful that “when the Triduum comes up next spring, they may think, ‘Oh, I remember something about that’ and they’ll start making connections and looking at things in a whole new light.’ ”
The seeds for this new approach to catechesis were planted about three years ago, Stinson said. They were sown in classes she took in the Archdiocese of Louisville Ministry Institute and the Loyola University Extension Program. The classes “gave me different models of religious education and that kind of stayed with me,” she said.
Stinson believes that if religious education programs don’t adapt to today’s technology and the realities of family life, “We’re going to lose them.”