Weekly Models of Intergenerational Faith Formation
Case Study: Weekly Intergenerational Faith Formation Model
Monthly intergenerational faith formation programs are the norm around the country primarily because this kind of scheduling reflects the recommendations of the Generations of Faith Project that launched so many intergenerational faith formation programs across the United States and Canada. More and more churches are joining the ranks of those who offer weekly intergenerational faith formation. They are seeing that shorter and more frequent intergenerational experiences have a more powerful impact than longer and less frequent offerings.
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Rapid City, South Dakota (http://www.cathedralolph.org/faithformation.html) switched from a monthly program at the end of 2012 and they were surprised to discover that average attendance increased significantly. Average attendance was 160 people when they offered the intergenerational program monthly. When they switched to the weekly offering, average attendance jumped to 250 people! The staff reports that church members are thrilled with the weekly program.
The program is offered on Wednesday evening and begins with supper at 5:30 p.m. At 6:15 age groups are dismissed in the following groups: Preschool, Grades K-1, Grades 2-3, Grades 4-5, Grades 6-8, High School, and Adult.
They use Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (http://www.cgsusa.org/), a Montessori faith formation program, for their preschool group. All of their elementary, middle school, and high school materials are based upon the Life Teen program (www.catholicyouthministry.com). Life Teen is a high school faith formation program, but they have adapted the materials to be suitable for a wide range of children and teens. This kind of flexibility and creativity is a hallmark of many successful intergenerational practitioners. Linda Baldwin, the program director, claims that her presenters are far more focused, creative, and prepared because they don’t use textbooks. The lack of a book challenges all of them to work harder and prepare better for their learning sessions. They see this as a definite advantage in their program.
The adults at Our Lady of Perpetual Help have two options. They can attend a Lectionary-based Bible study or they can participate in a themes-based faith formation session. The Bible study, a popular program that predates the weekly intergenerational faith formation program, has been integrated into the new model.
All of the groups have a short prayer experience at the end of their sessions and they sometimes gather the adults with the high school teens for this. All of the age groups, along with some other church members, gather together at 7:30 p.m. to close the evening with a liturgy.
There are many reasons why this is working for the Cathedral of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Success doesn’t happen by accident or by chance. It takes strong leadership, support from the power structure, a strong work ethic, a team that is both creative and detail oriented, and deliberate connection to the life of the church community. The leaders at this church are dedicated to and highly enthusiastic about bringing the generations together. The Pastor and Assistant Pastor both support the program and are regularly present during its implementation. They expect their catechists to prepare well. They hold them accountable for doing their homework before they present learning sessions. While this team uses resources from publishing companies such as Life Teen, they do not hesitate to alter the materials to make them work in their local setting. The team takes the time to know the people they serve and they provide experiences that meet the needs of the people.
Case Study: Weekly Lectionary Based Faith Formation
A weekly lectionary model was designed by and used successfully at St. Patrick Church in Fayetteville, North Carolina for 18 years before staff changes caused it to be cancelled. They focused on the Scripture readings from the previous Sunday and offered generous doses of prayer and worship as the context for each week’s learning session.
Joe Long, a parish staff member for more than two decades, reports that a doctoral candidate studied the learning outcomes of the children who participated in this program in comparison to children who attended a Catholic school. The ACRE (Assessment of Catechesis/Religious Education) test was used as the instrument to measure learning outcomes for both groups in the study. While the Catholic school children scored slightly higher than the parish program children, the researcher found no significant difference between the scores even though the parish children were only meeting for formal catechesis 30-35 times per year for 90 minutes with a significant portion of the time spent in prayer. Intergenerational models are founded upon the widely accepted principle that parents are the most powerful faith formation agents in the life of a child. The presence of parents in this program would give the children a distinct advantage over the Catholic school children even with the far fewer contact hours for formal faith formation.
The model used by St. Patrick was scheduled on Wednesday evening from 7:00 p.m. – 8:30 p.m. Nursery services were provided for children under four years. It opened with a well-planned prayer experience based upon the Bible readings from the previous Sunday led by a member of the church staff and included reflective comments by the prayer leader. This was followed by breakout sessions with age-specific groups. All age groups focused on the same content. Then the groups would return and report back to the large group and close with a prayer. Here is the model in outline form:
A possible adaptation of this model could be to focus the midweek learning session on the readings for the upcoming Sunday. If this option were used, one could gather the participants and begin with a reflection on how the previous Sunday’s readings are currently influencing their lives in the midst of the current week. This would be followed by the celebration of the Liturgy of the Word for the upcoming Sunday. Then a learning session on the upcoming Sunday’s readings would both prepare participants for the weekend worship service and set them up for the reflections at next week’s learning session. This approach accentuates the situating of Sunday worship in the center of the faith formation program, philosophically and programmatically. Here is how it looks in outline form:
Weekly models, once thought to be too ambitious, are doable and sustainable over time. Many Protestant churches have used parallel learning for all ages on a weekly basis for decades. In parallel learning, age-specific groups learn at their own level, and all groups focus on the same themes at the same time. The advantages of weekly, lectionary-based, intergenerational faith formation are obvious:
Any Lectionary-based resource would be helpful for the learning portion of this kind of programming. Much of the time is spent in prayer so there would be less time proportionally spent on formal learning. The integration of prayer, worship and learning is a unique strength represented by this case study and has the potential of being powerfully transformative if the prayer and worship experiences are planned well.