Faith comes alive for all ages at the same time
Intergenerational groups proving more popular with parents and in parishes
Fourth in a series on the Bishop's Appeal
By Joanne Flemming
|BIBLE BASICS: Gene Sinner of St. John-Sacred Heart Parish, Sherwood, discusses the Bible with an intergenerational religious education group. (Josh Diedrich photo)
One way Laura Mueller of St. John the Baptist Parish, Howard, and her six children grow in their faith as a family is through the prayer space they created at home.
The space includes a candle and a picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd holding the hands of a child kneeling in front of him. Both items sit on a cloth the color of the liturgical season, for example, purple for Lent, Mueller said.
The space may also include projects the children made in religious education classes. Mueller said she has put a puzzle there of Mary or a paper doll of Pope John Paul II with cutouts of his papal garb.
When the weather is nice, the prayer space is in the sun room. During Advent it's next to the kitchen table. Wherever it is, the family can have quiet times there, Mueller said.
The family had a prayer space in their previous home in Minnesota. They moved to the Green Bay area and about 1½ years ago became involved with St. John's GIFT (Growing in Faith Together) faith formation program, which suggested creating a prayer space.
Such ideas, offered to families in home kits, are only one way religious education programs in the Green Bay Diocese have adopted in the last few years to help families through intergenerational programs. Diocesan assistance to religious education programs is made possible through the annual Bishop's Appeal, under way in parishes.
As Gene Sinner, faith formation director for the parishes in Sherwood, Hilbert and Stockbridge noted, these program do not follow the traditional classroom model. Every age group, preschool to senior citizen, meets at one session per month, usually beginning with a meal, followed by prayer, large group presentations drawn from the year's theme and small group breakouts based on age.
What's key, directors of religious education agree, is that parents learn along with their children. "Parents are coming and growing in their faith," said Pat VandenBoogard, St. John, Howard, religious education director. "They aren't merely dropping their children off to a program. They have the opportunity for adult faith formation as well."
The sessions "empower parents," Sinner said, "by helping educate them in the same subject each month the kids learn. This gives them a common ground for conversation."
Kathy Kessler, St. John-Sacred Heart Parish, Sherwood, said the Generations of Faith program in her parish encourages parents to learn more about their faith. "In order to teach, we have to know. You have to learn every day of your life."
Kessler is the mother of eight, five of whom attend St. John-Sacred Heart School. Two of the three older children attend public high school; one graduated last year.
At St. Mary Parish, Kaukauna, parents attend sessions with their elementary children, said Jean Olson, DRE. "We try to give parents the feel of what it will be like at home ... sharing
your faith and have children look to them as the person who is the authority on church teaching, or on morality, or on the sacraments."
"It empowers parents to instruct their kids at home and to incorporate the Christian lifestyle throughout home life," Sinner said.
Jean Abalan, DRE at St. Mary, Omro, and Jenny Thorn, DRE at St. Mary, Oshkosh, said parents tell them the program lets them spend time with their children and opens "lines of
communication" - especially important with middle school and teens, Abalan said.
Olson pointed to the conversation that a pro-life speaker sparked at St. Mary, Kaukauna. One youth told her he had asked the presenter lots of questions about in vitro
fertilization and the church's position during his confirmation interview. Because his parents and older brother had heard the same talk, there was "wonderful" discussion on the way home, he said.
After each month's session, participants receive home kits to use for follow-up. These include ideas for family discussions and activities, such as prayer spaces. They may also include calendars of upcoming parish events.
Because this year's theme at St. Mary, Kaukauna, is Catholic social justice, Olson said her kits include ideas for action projects for families who want to do more.
The directors of religious education listed other benefits for intergenerational programs:
1. Children get to know other adults in the parish and families get to know other families, Thorn said. Abalan told about a teen who didn't know anyone after his family moved to Omro. The youth, who was preparing for confirmation, met an adult whom he asked to be
his sponsor through Generations of Faith.
2. It involves senior citizens. VandenBoogard said one couple has given witness talks on how Scripture is meaningful to them. Another spoke about the impact of the Sacrament of Anointing on him. In Kaukauna, a couple who had been married 50 years participated in a panel on marriage. They talked about how they had prayed through their lives and all their troubles and how being connected to Christ and the church made a difference in their lives, Olson said.
The directors of religious education evaluate their programs periodically to see how effective they are. In Howard, VandenBoogard surveyed adults in GIFT about how they wanted to
continue to grow in their faith. As a result two Scripture-based adult faith sharing groups will begin meeting in early March.