Nagel uses stories to spark faith discussion

By | October 19, 2011

The story was one of many shared by Nagel, executive director of the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) in Washington, D.C. His presentation, “Hands and Hearts Across Generations,” was sponsored by a coalition of 10 parishes with partial funding through a grant from the Catholic Foundation. Nagel encouraged parents to tell their own stories.

“What stories of forgiveness do you know and what stories do you tell?” asked Nagel. “Do you ever talk to your kids about what you’ve given up because you love them?”

Nagel fostered conversation between audience members, especially parents and children, by presenting topics for brief discussion. Drawing on the “Can you imagine?” text from Bishop David Ricken’s pastoral letter on priorities for parishes and the diocese, Nagel asked the congregation to share with one another what they like about their church. He also asked parents to describe to their children the items in their parents’ homes that let people know they were Catholics and believers.

Another exercise called on all ages to look at the memories of their lives. Nagel challenged each person to think of a memory that brings warmth, another from long ago, one that brings tears, another that brings laughter and one that is as precious as gold. He instructed them to then choose one of the memories to share with another person.

“Stories are like containers holding the truths that we believe,” he said. “Stories are like connectors. Those stories of our great ancestors still happen today. Stories are like a mirror because sometimes those stories make us take a look at ourselves.”

In addition to telling stories, developing rituals is important, added Nagel, who served 16 years as the director of Total Catholic Education for the Diocese of Green Bay. He suggested a Sunday home gathering with unsliced bread and nice glassware with stems. Blessing and breaking the bread forms a connection in the home to the Mass. Nagel challenged the people to make connections in everyday life such as the water when washing your hands serving as a reminder of baptism.

“What can you do to bring the memory of what we do (at Mass) home? That’s your challenge. That’s your invitation,” he said.

“Lee is just a master storyteller,” said Mary Sedlacek, director of religious education at St. Mary of the Angels Parish in Green Bay. “To have this many people and all ages here to share was just so neat. I was sitting in the back observing the families interacting.”

“So many of our families forget that the stories in the Bible can be told over and over just like the stories at home,” said Deborah Gretzinger, faith formation facilitator at Prince of Peace Parish. “Bring the liturgy of the word home. It’s what we hear at Mass, not just the Eucharist. It’s all of it together. This was a good night.”

The following day, Nagel presented at a workshop about fully engaging households in faith at the Rock Garden Conference Center in Green Bay. He incorporated the six pastoral focus areas covered in Bishop Ricken’s pastoral letter.

“I think they are the six steps of catechesis,” said Nagel. “It really takes the whole parish. Where did we come up with the idea that a classroom model could do all this? You need the rest of the parish involved to teach the faith.”

Nagel, a North Dakota native, said that he enjoys Washington, D.C., and travels a considerable amount for the NCCL. He welcomed the trip to Green Bay.

“It’s always nice to come back here,” he said. “I love the smells. You really don’t get that out there.”

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