If Jesus prepared and commissioned his chosen representatives to witness to what he taught, shouldn’t we do the same? That question seems appropriate as we read from the Book of Acts this Easter season, which is also a time when many of our youths are being confirmed and others are finishing religious education studies for the academic year. Will these young Catholics continue their faith formation beyond their confirmation?
The Catholic Church teaches that parents are the first and primary educators of their children in the faith. Catechists serve an essential role in building on that foundation of faith. They provide the systematic and intentional piece of faith formation. Their “job” is to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in its totality and with an age-appropriate methodology.
Catechists need to be equipped, just as Jesus equipped the first “catechists” in the early church. This week’s issue contains an article about the Davenport Diocese’s efforts to help equip today’s catechists, beginning with an updated and revised Lifelong Faith Formation Curriculum Guide. As the article states, the diocese has set a goal of having all catechists certified. At present, 19 percent of our catechists are certified, meaning that they have achieved at least a basic level of competence in their field. If we’re serious about our desire to hand on the faith, we ought to support this diocesan goal to get the other 81 percent of catechists certified.
As a community of believers, it is our job to ensure that our catechists have the skills to articulate the faith so that it resonates with their students. The challenge, as one director of religious education puts it, is encouraging already busy volunteers to get the training required for certification.
The digital age offers one solution to that challenge. Echoes of Faith, an online program for catechist formation, is a tool the Davenport Diocese is using to provide catechists with flexible, at-your-own pace training and certification. One larger parish in the diocese offers in-service training twice a year for catechists, all of whom are certified. Let’s encourage these efforts by our parishioners who have chosen to give their time to the important ministry of catechesis.
In 2015, the Pew Research Center released the sobering results of a study on America’s changing religious landscape. The study found that the percentage of adults who describe themselves as Christians had dropped from 78.4 percent in 2007 to 70.6 percent in 2014. The percentage of adults unaffiliated with any faith group rose from 16.1 percent to 22.8 percent in that same timeframe. Mainline Protestants and Catholics represented the greatest drop in the Christian share of the population.
Catholics and other Christians become disaffected and leave the church for many and complex reasons. Catechists, who can articulate the faith with confidence and joy borne of ongoing learning, may give their students reason to stay.
Bishop Martin Amos says catechesis “is an awesome task, one that deserves complete dedication, catechists who are well formed in faith, financial resources and the finest of materials. While all ministries require support, we know that by strengthening the catechetical ministry we also strengthen the church’s internal life as a community of believers and her external activity as a missionary church.”
Isn’t that what Jesus asked us to do? Go and make disciples?
Barb Arland-Fye, Editor