Forming disciples in ‘missionary discipleship’

Submitted by Diocesan Faith Formation staff

Serving the people who serve the parishes is one way that the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation describes itself. Whether keeping up with the trends in faith formation that are happening nationally, or living out the mission of lifelong and ongoing discipleship in their ministry as they accompany others, Andrea Schaffer, Andrea Slaven, Theresa White, and Marge Babcock continue to witness joyfully the mission through lived experiences. As Pope Francis describes in his exhortation Joy of the Gospel, the staff models his first proclamation: “Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen, and free you.”

   Working within the vision of missionary discipleship, they provide support to Catechetical Leaders and mentor in myriad ways such as assisting in program development, providing professional development and enrichment, and training in new approaches and skills to the parish community. This can happen in a number of ways, including one-to-one meetings, monthly professional gatherings, developmental trainings, workshops, and conferences that offer engaging speakers from outside the diocese on current trends. Nine people from the Diocese of Syracuse attended a national symposium titled “Faith Formation with a New Generation” this past week. During the symposium, they learned innovative ways to approach intergenerational and family catechesis.

   The Office of Faith Formation offers certification programs and strongly encourages catechists to become certified, acquiring new skills to bring into their sessions with disciples of all ages. The Heart of the Catechist course continues to grow in numbers as parish catechists engage in a three-hour session. The goal is to lead them through a deeper understanding of the call as a catechist.  Much of this workshop is based on a letter that Pope Francis wrote to catechists about how their gift to be in this ministry can be nurtured. There has been positive feedback in that the session incorporates many creative approaches while assisting the group in discussing their ministry with one another. It is a great opportunity for parish catechists to come together with one another to be enriched and learn the basis of the catechetical ministry.

   The website (rcfaithquest.syrdio.org) that has been developed for catechists to find new and interesting digital curated resources to enhance their sessions, has a newly added feature. The Catechist Blog is now up and running for all those in the catechetical ministry. The purpose of this new page is to offer bimonthly posts that directly support catechists’ ministry and highlights current information from the Syracuse diocese and the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) and the NCCL (National Conference of Catechetical Leadership). Each post offers new ideas in session preparation, catechist enrichment, digital tips, family connections, and liturgical themes. Catechists can interact with others and offer their ideas and feedback thus creating an engaging network.

   At the parish level, a new idea that has been developed by Cheryl Smith (St. John the Evangelist, New Hartford) is using the trend of the “Escape Room” with her eighth- to 10th-graders. This is a fun way for teens to work as a team where they find clues about a certain theme in order to leave — “escape” — the room. Cheryl’s session plan uses the Exodus story with the goals of catechizing. The goals of this lesson plan are to learn about the origins of the Mass, who Moses was, and how the Exodus story connects to today’s tradition. There is a key message of faith that allows the participants to come out of the room, where additional catechesis is provided by session catechists using a hieroglyphics digital app. Stay tuned for more information on how to get the package for your sessions.

   Engaging youth in their own culture necessitates that some of our approaches include new skills in digital catechesis. As parish faith formation responds to our young disciples’ digital world, it is necessary that the catechist is trained in new skills and sound digital practices. Sister Melanie Jaworski (Catechetical leader at Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Syracuse) along with her pastor, Father Andrew Baranski,  re-envisioned their parish faith formation environment. As a result technology was added to their session rooms. The Faith Formation staff  was then invited to train and accompany their catechists as they learned how to use the equipment and how to incorporate new digital skills in sessions. We continue to accompany several others in Google tools, website design, educational technology apps, and other digital considerations.

   This is just a small portion of how each parish’s unique approach to Faith Formation is being supported by the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation. We welcome engaging conversation on what is happening in your parish and even if you have a kernel of an idea, contact us to help to develop a plan, enhance your program, or find support for your catechists and make that seed of an idea become a reality.