Teach the children — and adults — well

CAMILLUS — St. Joseph’s Church in  Camillus doesn’t just educate the young people in its faith formation program. The parish is out to educate parents too.

The parish invited a leading faith formation educator in Michael Theisen to come to the parish two consecutive weekends to speak with parents. Most parents had children in either the First Communion/first penance program or in the confirmation class. The first session was held Oct. 17 and the second on Oct. 24 and the combined sessions drew approximately 500 parents, including many fathers, on an afternoon typically reserved for football games and afternoon yard work.

Theisen, pronounced “Tyson,” is director of membership services for the National Federation for Catholic Youth Ministry based in Washington, D.C. He’s been working in adolescent catechesis and youth ministry for 25 years and has written several books and articles.

A foundation of Theisen’s presentation was research titled National Study of Youth and Religion (NYSR). The study was conducted from 2001-2005 and it brought some profound concepts to light.

Most compelling was that the study said parents are the single most influential factor on religious and spiritual aspects of their childrens’ lives. Theisen said the research notes that adolescents mirror their parents’ beliefs. They also asked young people the question, “If you could change anything about the your family situation, what would it be?” Theisen said, “The teenagers said, ‘To become closer to my parents.’ Isn’t that amazing? This isn’t what my generation would have said. This generation wants to connect with you,” he told the parents.

Theisen said they want to connect but aren’t sure how to do it. And if parents wait for their children to make the first move, they miss the opportunity.

“How do they connect with people?” Theisen asked parents. “With their thumbs. With texting. What’s the limit of that kind of communication? They don’t have face-to-face communication.”

Theisen stressed the importance of having a family meal together saying parents and children have to be willing to give up a weeknight of activity to sit down together as a family and share a meal.

“Jesus had it right,” Theisen said. “The power of a meal is sacred. How are they going to understand the sacredness of the Eucharist if they don’t understand the sacredness of a family meal?”

Theisen’s research findings also included numbers — the average father spends eight minutes per day with his children including meal and television time; parents spend less than three minutes of non-directive communication with their children each day; only 12 percent of families pray together, and the average couple spends only four minutes of uninterrupted time together each day.

The research also found over and over again that faith makes a difference in the lives of young people. Theisen said it has a positive effect on the lives of children making them more engaged adolescents who live “more constructive and promising lives.”

Parents need to involve their children in their faith. It doesn’t necessarily mean they must “preach” to their children. They will get much further by living out their own faith so their children can mirror it, he said.

“Make decisions based on values, morals and faith,” Theisen said.

The NYSR study showed Catholic teens ranked #5 among Christian denominations in regard to living and practicing their faith. Catholics have been taught the old addage, “Never discuss religion or politics,” Theisen said. Catholics have created a consumer/provider model for faith formation, he said. Parents drop their children off at church and expect the experts to teach them the faith.

Father Greg LeStrange, pastor of St. Joseph’s, said the parent sessions were so successful they led to plans for adult faith formation sessions after the holidays.

“This experience helped to provide an opporutnity for my husband and me to look closer at how we celebrate our religion and what improvemetns we can make,” said Deb Steele, a parent of a ninth grader.

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