Catechist uses internet to grow faith
By Connie Berry
CLARK MILLS — Strike while the iron is hot. Meet them where they are. Walk a mile in their shoes.
Cheryl Smith has taken this all to heart and developed a catechetical program that reaches the teenagers in her confirmation class, as well as their parents and other parishioners at Annunciation Church where she is catechetical leader. Smith is also administrator of the Eastern Region’s Faith Formation Resource Center. She utilizes the internet not only to communicate, but also to teach.
Last year her confirmation class met once a month in person and for the rest of the month they met virtually using the internet to read, view, discuss and reflect on the curriculum for their last year of confirmation class. Smith’s program was called Power of One and by visiting the blog site, http://powerofone2010.blogspot.com, students could get their assignments, check out the upcoming schedule and even listen to Third Day perform “I Believe” or hear Matt Maher’s “Hold Us Together.” Most importantly, they could post their comments about the assignments.
Recent U.S. government statistics on internet usage in the home indicate that in New York State, nearly 80 percent of the households have some form of internet access. If Smith hopes to reach the young people, she figured she should try it their way.
Smith said she was brainstorming different methods and ideas when she devised the Power of One program. She had attended a workshop on a similar topic during last year’s “Journey of Faith” event. She met with Cathy Cornue, the Diocesan Director of Faith Formation, and the project was off and running.
“I tried to think like a teenager…. What does all this have to do with me?” Smith said. “When they come to class every week they sometimes don’t respond. They don’t know what to write or they just wouldn’t say anything in class. I would stand up in front of the class and not really know if they were getting it.”
Smith said Power of One lent itself to better communication with the class and with parents. “One of the key components was that we used numbers instead of names so that they wouldn’t really know who wrote what,” Smith explained. “I knew, but they didn’t, and if they didn’t respond to the assignment I called their parents.” She offered a class for parents and students to introduce the new teaching method. At first, some were skeptical, but Smith said the response after the first year has been overwhelmingly positive.
Andrew and Brandon Murphy are twins who made their confirmation together after finishing up the Power of One program. Together, they had this to say about the new way of attending class:
“Religion was enjoyable this year! I liked not going every week because it broke it up a little bit and we were able to think about what we had learned more in depth,” the boys wrote. “The project that we did made us feel like a part of the church and we believe that you should do something like the project idea again next year….The online portion of the Power of One class was a cool and neat new way to be taught about our religion. We would have never thought to take religion online and you should keep this part!”
Another change last year was with the class’ service projects. Rather than complete a group project, Smith wanted the projects to reflect the spectrum of gifts and talents the individual students have so each participant designed his or her service project. A few of the students worked together on some of the projects, but most did their own. Then, in April, they were presented at the church with displays, photos and other methods. Smith said parishioners and parents enjoyed viewing all the service projects, which included selling bracelets in support of military troops with the proceeds going to stock care packages sent overseas; two students adopting a family of seven at Christmas time, and a group of boys who worked as “handymen” completing projects for the parish.
Amy Falcone, mother of another set of twins in Smith’s class, Matt and Chris Falcone, was impressed by the new version of confirmation class.
“My sons chose to do a mock Mass for our congregation,” Falcone said. “Everyone enjoyed learning the reasons why we do what we do at Mass. The kids had fun doing their project, and many times said it taught them a lot in many ways. They were glad they didn’t have to just read about the subject and write a report, and I feel their project not only taught them about the Mass, but made an impact on their faith and strengthened it by making them feel they made a difference.”
Smith has not only designed a new way to teach confirmation class, but she has also incorporated technology in the adult faith formation area by offering an online book club. The group meets at the church on Wednesday mornings for a book discussion, but for those who can’t get to the group in person, all they have to do is check out http://www.wednesdaymorningbookgroup.blogspot.com and they’ll feel like they were there. There are reflection questions to think about before the next discussion group meets, as well as a summary of what happened the previous week. It’s a great way to add to the discussion about the book without having to be there. “It’s a virtual small faith community,” Smith said.
Along with all this virtual faith-building, Smith is also concerned about providing catechetical certification for her catechists. She will offer a video workshop, “Jesus, the Way” on Mondays, Sept. 12, 19 and 26 at the parish hall at Annunciation Church. The workshop is open to everyone but will provide catechetical credit: level 2 in Christology. Anyone interested in Smith’s technologically savvy techniques can reach her by emailing email@example.com.