In the eight years that I have been on staff at St. John with Faith Formation, we’ve cast vision and set goals for each year, making minor changes, tweaks, and attempts from one year to the next. In our work last year with kids and families, we dramatically shifted away from grade-level classrooms to allow the Mass to be the class: all religious education and sacramental preparation was to be connected to the Mass. We strengthened Children’s Liturgy of the Word at two Masses to help the younger students understand the Gospel through dialogue and prayer, we offered a short Gather Time between Masses for some “CCD/Sunday School”, and once a month we planned a Family mini-retreat. Preparation for Baptism, First Reconciliation, First Holy Communion, Confirmation, and Marriage all flow into the weekend Mass schedule and are built upon celebration of the Mass.

Last year’s participation was not what we had hoped for. One of our team members on staff was with us for less than a year, we seemed plagued by illness, and frankly, a few elements worked well while others bore little fruit. But the Lord clearly told us in prayer to stay the course. The “traditional classroom” approach to Religious Education and Sacramental Preparation does not raise up disciples in the same way as it once did (did it ever REALLY?). Catholic Churches around the country have witnessed a dramatic decline in participation in Mass, Catholic Schools, Religious Education, and Sacraments for the last 20 years. We simply cannot  continue doing business as usual.

I am so glad we had our feet firmly planted and prayed and waited. Things are all falling into place.

Perhaps you have heard the phrase “domestic church?” It has been bantered about for many years, famously from one of the Vatican II Documents, Lumen Gentium in paragraph #11. It means the little community of believers who live in our house; our homes are domestic churches. We first learn of the faith at home, attend Mass and other Sacraments with our families, celebrate Catholic holidays, pray together, do good works for others, and even sacrifice some of our time or treasure for the betterment of others.  We are going to focus on the Domestic Church and increase our opportunities to help build families into schools of prayer and disciples of Christ, learning and growing deeper in their faith together, and helping them transform their homes into sanctuary space.

This is going to be possible partly because of a restructuring. We reimagined our roles and did a major overhaul of the department. My friend Angel Koerkel will continue being the backbone of our ministry work: administrating the details of all we do and coordinating behind the scenes, especially sacramental preparation. I have stepped away from most of the ministry involving children and teens to focus in on adult formation, parents, discipleship, and spiritual direction. We hired a holy and capable new team member in August to lead the whole department and minister to the children and families. Kathy Blanchard has already proven to be exactly who we needed! Youth Ministry will not be forgotten in the shuffle—we hope to announce some really solid future plans in the months ahead!

Another super exciting element of what we are planning is possible because of some AMAZING new curriculum materials that found their way to us through a conference Fr. Chas and Shayne attended this summer. In all honesty, I have never yet found a textbook series, workbooks, or curriculum that leads me to say “I love this stuff!”  Until now! We are using a really unique, solidly Catholic curriculum for Religious Formation and Sacramental Preparation that teaches parents to be the teachers in their own Domestic Church. It is really simple but has depth. It can fit into your family’s schedule when and where is best for your family, and will foster lots of discussion.  It is beautifully prepared with high quality materials, but most importantly contains the faith presented in the fullness of truth. We cannot wait to share these with families!

Soon we will be offering an amazing Montessori approach to formation called Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, we will build up our adult Small Groups, offer teen Small Groups, strengthen all the different Sacramental preps, bring back catechist formation for volunteers, and build our team. We will need more hands on deck!

I’d like to repeat what the Lord said to me in the Adoration Chapel more than a year ago… my pen was scribbling down words as fast as possible, and all this seemed to come from outside of me, Jesus Himself saying:  “All your time and energy should go to My people who have chosen Me. Give Me your heart. Give Me your time.  Let Me lead you… I want them ALL. Seek those who seek Me. Go after the ones that are going after Me. Strengthen those who have strength in Me. Unite the remnant as the hot coals together who keep the truth burning inside no matter what happens outside.” I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see God’s hand in all this!