Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us 118-123: The Parish: Curriculum and Culture

Continuing with Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us … in this post we continue looking at their Part IV, Organizing for Adult Faith Formation. We are considering the parish, and this motto: The Parish Is the Curriculum. What do the bishops mean by this? “(T)he success of (adult formation) efforts rests very much on the quality and total fabric of parish life.”

To elaborate: liturgy, shared leadership, budget, charity and justice, and catechesis (118). In other words, pretty much everything. Does the “quality of the fabric” really lift the boat of adult formation? I suspect it does. When adults are sidelined by leadership–even by lay ministers on staff–the communication is clear: you don’t matter; only leaders matter. When the attempt in these areas is poor, fruitfulness is difficult to impossible to achieve (121).

OHWBWU doesn’t use the term “volunteer.” They write actively of “(p)arishioners’ personal involvement in ministry.” The entire experience is formative, from those who recruit and train them, to those they serve–in whatever capacity (119).

The bishops consider the homily as “hold(ing) powerful potential for fostering the faith of adults,” as we read in the GDC 51 & 57. Pope John Paul II’s quote is illustrative of his advice to preachers:

(The homily) takes up again the journey of faith put forward by catechesis, and brings it to its natural fulfillment. At the same time, it encourages the Lord’s disciples to begin anew each day their spiritual journey in truth, adoration and thanksgiving. (Catechesi Tradendae 48)

Two paragraphs discuss Shaping Parish Culture. What does parish culture mean–that’s what a lot of people will ask. The bishops themselves offer a number of questions (122):

  • How are people encouraged to examine their basic assumptions about life and its ultimate meaning?
  • How do they acquire the perspective and skills for an intelligent appropriation of Catholic Christian tradition and an honest, informed assessment of contemporary culture?
  • How is the Christian message lived, communicated, and explored?
  • How do people experience Christian community in family, parish, small groups, and ecumenical encounters?
  • How do they actively participate in liturgical, small group, family, and personal prayer?
  • How are they involved in assessing local needs and discerning pastoral priorities?
  • How is Christian stewardship in parish and society called forth and welcomed?
  • How do they personally serve the “least ones” (Mt 25:45)?
  • How are they involved in shaping public policy and making society more just?
  • In short, how is learning in faith already happening through the ordinary experience of parish life and mission?

If there is a parish formation team, then in coordination with the entire parish staff and the clergy, these questions would be a starting place. Answering the “how” questions require experience, thought, and mutual listening among leadership to delve into the reality of culture.

Sociologists of religion have explored this, primarily our Protestant sisters and brother. The strongest factors in bolstering faith in adults: lifelong formation in the faith plus lifelong involvement in the life of the Church. The studies cited:

Peter L. Benson and Carolyn H. Eklin, Effective Christian Education: A National Study of Protestant Congregations (Minneapolis MN: Search Institute, 1990)

James Davidson et al., The Search for Common Ground (Huntington IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1997)

Let’s learn from the experts. Even Protestants–it will be okay.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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