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Dayton team advocates adult faith formation

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Friday, November 13, 2009

By Mary Caffrey Knapke

DAYTON DEANERY — In 1999 the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released “Our Hearts Were Burning Within Us,” a document calling for “profound, lifelong conversion of the whole person” and positioning adult faith formation “at the heart of our catechetical vision and practice.”

Earlier this year, the archdiocesan Office of Evangelization and Catechesis sponsored a survey of parishes to determine what affect the bishops’ statement has had on concepts of adult faith formation within the diocese.

“One of the key concepts in the document is this idea that the parish is a catechetical program,” said David Riley, regional director of adult faith formation and evangelization. “The parish doesn’t so much have an adult faith formation program. The parish is an adult faith formation program. It squarely puts adult faith formation as the central focus of catechesis.”

In the survey, many catechetical leaders indicated that parishes have seen greater interest in adult faith formation and an understanding that adult growth in faith must take place at all levels of parish life. Some survey respondents, however, indicated that adult faith formation was still perceived as adult education in the faith.

The distinction is subtle, but important. “The bishops’ statement is trying to move the idea of adult formation from bringing adults into classrooms and teaching them, to the realization that it has to be part of the fabric of the parish community in a variety of ways,” Riley said.

In an effort to further promote this concept, the Dayton Deanery Evangelization Team (DDET) has formed around the mission of assisting parishes with projects that encourage faith renewal. Active since August 2008, the team hopes to build on parish efforts by providing help and resources for programs such as intergenerational events, parish retreats and small faith groups.

The team recently organized “Let Us Our Talents and Tongues Employ: Renewing Our Liturgical Ministry,” an evening of spiritual renewal for liturgical ministers in the Dayton Deanery. About 600 ministers attended the program, during which Jesuit Father J-Glenn Murray, a noted speaker from Washington, D.C., provided insight and inspiration.

“Our liturgical ministers, these great volunteers we all lean upon, had this wonderful evening together to remember how important their service is to the body of Christ,” said Mary Wlodarski, pastoral associate at Holy Trinity in Dayton and a member of the DDET. “Formation is about motivation and action as much as information; it is about heart as much as head. What Father Murray provided was inspiration and affirmation. This gathering of liturgical ministers was about stirring the embers, trying to bring out the passion and fire of service to our communities.”

Other projects the team would like to organize in the future might include a deanery-wide Mass at a large space such as University of Dayton arena. The team is also interested in providing assistance and resources to parishes that would like to reach out to inactive Catholics.

This type of programming would complement parish efforts already underway. Pat Smith, coordinator of adult faith formation at St. Patrick Parish in Troy, said one type of event offered at the parish is Advent and Lenten whole-community catechesis. At these events, families gather in the parish center and “journey” to different stations throughout the building. A station might feature a talk given by parishioners, an activity, or a video, and each station represents a distinct spiritual journey.

“We often let fellow parishioners tell their faith stories, and that means so much and helps to connect and motivate each other,” Smith said. “Hearing where God is in others’ lives helps us to see Him in our own lives.”

She said small groups such as GriefShare, DivorceCare, 7 Steps to Becoming Financially Free, prayer groups and Bible study also provide faith formation opportunities for people in particular situations or with specific interests.

Adult faith formation can also mean moving outside the parish to seek out opportunities available within the diocese and beyond. Joan Torres, pastoral associate for adult faith formation at St. Helen in Dayton and a member of the DDET, calls adult faith formation “a life-long process which can take many different forms.”

“At one time, people were uncomfortable going to another parish for a speaker or event of interest to them, but more and more people are becoming comfortable with that idea,” Torres said. “People are getting online and reading things to deepen their faith; people are becoming regular users of prayer sites online. . . . Whereas the parish used to be the locus for people’s faith formation, I think it is happening in a wider arena now.”

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