Faith Formation study looks at present, to future of ministry

courtesy pexels.com

By Katherine Long | Editor

A study exploring Faith Formation in the diocese has concluded, resulting in recommendations for defining, organizing, supporting, and delivering the ministry in the future.

“The study affirmed some of our assumptions that parishes were seeking new ways to engage families in catechesis,” said Danielle Cummings, diocesan Chancellor and Director of Communications.

“Parishes verbalized their desire to have several models of catechesis, with the understanding that one model does not fit all. It gave good insights to the role of the Office of Faith Formation, including a desire to revamp its catechetical training, making it less burdensome on the Catechetical Leader,” she said.

Cummings said the results also support the roadmap that was established for the office, which includes developing assessments and standards, researching and documenting successful Faith Formation models from around the country, and improving and enhancing catechetical training and mentoring.

Study background

The study, conducted by Syracuse-based research and evaluation organization Hezel Associates, sought to “align catechesis efforts with the diocesan mission of evangelization,” Cummings said at the study’s outset last year.

“As part of our strategic planning process, the [diocese’s strategic planning] committee evaluated where the diocese is in terms of its Faith Formation ministry,” Cummings said then.

“Upon the retirement of the former Director of Faith Formation, Cathy Cornue [effective August 1, 2017], they decided it was the best time to embark on a study that would help us determine what catechesis looks like in our diocese currently; how are our resources being used at both the parish and the diocesan level; and, with the knowledge that family structures and faith practices have changed, what’s the best way that we can connect with both families and individuals on forming their faith?”

Cummings served as the facilitator for the study and currently oversees the Office of Faith Formation. Recruitment for the director position has been on hold during the study process. The Office of Faith Formation is currently led by Andrea Schaffer, Associate Director; Andrea Slaven, Associate Director/Instructional Technologist; Theresa White, Associate Director; and Marge Babcock, Catechetical and Digital Media Consultant.   

Collecting data

Hezel Associates’ research focused on three key areas: the current state of Faith Formation at the parish level, how the Office of Faith Formation can best support parishes, and promising Faith Formation practices in the diocese.

Data was collected between November 2017 and January 2018 through questionnaires provided to Catechetical Leaders (CLs) and pastors, focus groups and follow-up interviews with CLs, and a literature review to identify emerging practices in Faith Formation.

The questionnaires were developed by the diocese, with input from the staff of the Office of Faith Formation and Hezel Associates.

Patrick Fiorenza, senior research analyst at Hezel Associates, said 120 CLs were engaged for the study. The questionnaire response rate was 73 percent for CLs and 38 percent for pastors, and 32 percent of CLs participated in focus groups, he said.

Findings

The study took a detailed look at each area of interest. Some key findings outlined in the summary, delivered in September, are excerpted or summarized below.

Regarding the current status of Faith Formation in parishes:

  • Faith Formation across the diocese is undergoing a time of transition.
  • Faith Formation leaders offer a variety of program models and delivery methods for Faith Formation and believe that programs should be based on parish needs.
  • Catechetical Leaders have implemented new strategies into programming.
  • Challenges include limited staff and volunteers, limited parent engagement, collaboration on delivery among linked parishes, and collaboration among ministries in parishes.    

Regarding how parish Faith Formation leaders perceive the role of the Diocesan Office of Faith Formation:

  • There is a lack of understanding of the role of the Office of Faith Formation. Some say the office could be closed, others are concerned CLs will lose their voice in the diocese without a director.
  • CLs overall are satisfied with support received from the diocese.
  • Areas of need include providing CLs a voice in the Office of Faith Formation, improving communications and collaboration with CLs throughout the diocese, balancing parish autonomy and diocesan standards, developing trust through relationship-building with Northern Region CLs, and identifying effective models related to family and relational ministry.

Regarding evangelization practices across the diocese:

  • CLs are very aware of the diocese’s mission of evangelization, however not all parishes have a dedicated evangelization ministry and many CLs are looking for more clarity on the differing roles of Faith Formation and Evangelization.

Recommendations

Based on the study’s findings, Hezel Associates’ suggestions and recommendations to the diocese include the following:

  • Empower Catechetical Leaders by giving them a voice in changes
  • Provide Catechetical Leaders with ongoing professional development opportunities
  • Avoid the one-size-fits-all model as a Faith Formation delivery method
  • Identify opportunities to attend faith formation gatherings across the diocese
  • Begin efforts to restructure the Office of Faith Formation
  • Define the mission, vision, goals of Youth Ministry, Faith Formation, and Evangelization
  • Reform regional meetings to better serve needs of Catechetical Leaders and offer multiple ways to participate
  • Renew partnerships with Northern Region leadership through relationship building
  • Investigate the pilot program [a collaborative process of evangelization, catechesis, Confirmation, and ongoing adult faith formation currently being piloted in several parishes] more thoroughly
  • Provide models to Catechetical Leaders to improve engaging youth and families in parish life
  • Conduct needs assessments of parents and families at parishes

Asked what might be important next steps for the diocese based on the survey results, Fiorenza, of Hezel, noted the passion and commitment of the individuals who participated in the study. He pointed to the importance of the diocese continuing to give them a voice, empower them, and engage them in shaping the future of the ministry. He also cited crafting a clear mission and vision for Faith Formation across the diocese while giving flexibility at the parish level, and finding ways to help Faith Formation ministers collaborate, connect, and “build a community of practice.”

Next steps

With these results in hand, Cummings said the Office of Faith Formation would continue to work on the “roadmap” tasks: developing standards, identifying successful Faith Formation models, and improving training and mentoring.

Once complete, the next step will be “creating committees of Catechetical Leaders, catechists, and pastors to review their work and to assist in the development of the overall vision for the office,” she said. “The vision will include working collaboratively with the Office of Evangelization, the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry, and the Office of Family/Respect Life Ministry.”

A summary of the study and its results is available at syracusediocese.org/offices/faith-formation/. Cummings said additional work from the office will be available as it is completed and that input is welcome.