This week’s “From the Pastor” is written by Stewart Voegtlin, Youth Faith Formation

stewart-voegtlin150x150Religious education, by its very nature, asks a deceptively simple question: what should we teach our children about our faith? And, if we’re so bold as to believe we have an answer, and have put it into action, we must also ask ourselves: is what we’re doing truly working?

The Catholic faith dates back 2,000 years, and brings with it an overwhelmingly rich tradition of ritual, practice, theology, and belief. Deciding on what we what to share with our children can be paralyzing. But we might approach a response if we consider three interrelated, but no less daunting questions: What are the most beneficial ideas? How should we teach them? And who should teach them?

We have an immediate answer for our third question: STM parishioners should teach our children. Those who choose to volunteer as catechists for our religious education program, which serves kindergarten through fifth grade, spend several hours a week educating our children. We met with many of them last Sunday at an informal listening session, took questions and heard concerns, wishes, and wants. Our time together was quite constructive, and illuminating.

Going forward, we must find ways to reduce class size. Several catechists spoke to the wonderful problem of being overburdened with catechumens. This signals a healthy interest in our faith, but results in an enrollment that puts a great strain on resources. Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes in a room with over 20 first graders knows that you usually spend as much time imploring the kids not to touch x, y, and/or z, as you do instructing them.

Many catechists spoke to the necessity of parent involvement, in many guises. Several even suggested a program where parents acted as primary instructors. This should sound familiar, especially if your child received first Holy Communion at STM. Parents, cast by Fr. Mark as the, “first and best teachers” of their children, are absolutely integral to their child’s preparation and faith formation. Indeed, a child’s genuine desire to learn about, and to question, their faith is fed by parental example.

Catechists also suggested pairing service opportunities with instruction, having the opportunity to increase pedagogical skills through training and additional faith formation, and generating ways to share ideas with their fellow catechists. These are simple aspirations with complex, and beneficial consequences, which brings us back to our three big questions: (1) what are the most beneficial ideas? (2) how should we teach them? And (3), who should teach them.

Ideally, how should STM’s religious education program operate? Our vision for the future is based on the following considerations:

  • Explore moving away from textbooks curriculum/traditional classroom model
  • Give catechists pedagogical training with which to thoughtfully reimagine catechesis
  • Form “reimagining RE” committee with focus on
    encounter with Jesus
  • Consider options, e.g., “Whole Family” catechesis;
    Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, based on Montessori method

Indeed, my work with middle and high school kids at STM builds on these very notions. We find little reason why religious education and STM Youth should not share a conceptual symmetry; for all instruction, whether it comes from peers, parents, or catechists, must work towards ferrying our children toward a relationship with Jesus Christ.

We invite, and encourage you to participate in this discussion! If you have ideas about religious education, and would like to shape future catechesis at STM, please feel free to contact me (svoegtlin@stmga.org) and Andy (aotto@stmga.org). We look forward to hearing your ideas about the future of religious education at St. Thomas More!