MONROE—In the mid 1950s, Steve Allen wrote his now-immortal song, “This Could Be the Start of Something Big.” It became his theme song for his television shows and, some would say, his entire life.
But the song was mentioned on Wednesday morning at St. Jude Parish in Monroe for a different reason. Patrick Donovan, Executive Director of the diocesan Leadership Institute, told the seventy people gathered at the workshop on Faith Formation that the song had been had been on his mind in recent weeks.
“As we have been preparing for this day, there has been a song stuck in my head,” Donovan joked. “As soon as I mention it, it will be stuck in yours.”
He then outlined how the work of the Fourth Diocesan Synod had led to the formation of the Diocesan Catechetical Task Force and how that group had labored for 18 months on the document, An Invitation to Lifelong Formation, which was published in September 2017.
The document, which has gained attention across the country, offers a framework for parishes to re-imagine formation at every level of development.
“This is our text,” Donovan told the participants, book in hand. “This is our manual, our go-to document for the work of diocesan formation leaders and for all of us as we work together to improve the way we form the faithful. If you have not read it in full, get started.”
Those gathered represented twenty-one parishes who have accepted Bishop Caggiano’s invitation and have opted to be “all in” when it comes to re-imagining formation in their parishes. They will attend two more workshops like the one at St. Jude and participate in online modules and webinars.
Though each parish was asked to put a team together for the process, some parishes chose to only send one or two people, which was just fine for Donovan.
“This is new and when you tell people that ‘everything is on the table,’ it is easy to be overwhelmed,” Donovan said. “Parishes can add to their teams anytime during the process. This entire journey of reimagining faith formation will take time and, like so many things in life, is a work in progress.”
An additional sixteen parishes have chosen to focus on one or even several components of lifelong faith formation and will participate in online meetings and face-to-face gatherings that will be scheduled in the coming weeks.
Wednesday’s workshop was led by John Roberto, founder of Lifelong Faith, who served as the first diocesan director of youth ministry in the Diocese of Bridgeport, under Bishop Walter Curtis.
Roberto is an expert in youth, family, and intergenerational ministry. His book, Reimagining Faith Formation, will serve as a supplemental text and was distributed to those gathered.
“Today is indeed the start of something big,” Donovan said. “We are at the precipice of great renewal, great change, great opportunities. We are about to embark on an adventure that could change the church in the Diocese of Bridgeport as we know it.”
The focus of the first workshop, facilitated by Roberto, was to lay the groundwork for moving from programs to people, incorporating technology into ministry more effectively, and reaching out to those Roberto calls, “the occasional Catholics.”
“You saw them Ash Wednesday,” Roberto said, “and you will see them in about forty days. These are the people that check in once in a while but are not actively engaged in the parish.”
In addition, Roberto told participants that “we are a ten-decade world. People are living longer. Yet we are not a ten-decade Church.”
“Confirmation preparation takes two years in some parishes, but Baptism preparation for new parents is one ninety-minute session on a Sunday afternoon,” he added. “There is something wrong with that picture.”
“And what happens after the child is baptized?” Roberto asked. “We all know the answer to that: very little. I am telling you now, that if we wait until the child is six years old, it is simply too late.”
This was confirmed, Donovan commented, in the work of the Catechetical Task Force. Those parishes who indicated that they engage children between Baptism and First Communion are three times more likely to retain a connection to those families.
“We need to start thinking and acting ecologically in everything we do.” Roberto said. “For example, if we are creating a plan for children’s faith formation, we need to consider how we will engage children in faith community experiences with all generations. Once we have identified faith forming experiences in the broader ecology, we can identify the unique age-group experiences we need to provide children.”
“A new faith forming ecology must be responsive to the challenges of the twenty-first century world and the religious and spiritual needs of people today.”
Before closing the day, Roberto assigned homework. Parish leaders are to continue to build their teams and complete a congregational faith formation assessment tool, which provides a way for parish leaders to examine how it is currently forming faith through parish life, family faith formation, age-group faith formation, missional faith formation, and leadership.
Wednesday’s workshop was the first of three and was recorded for those unable to attend. The next Formation Reimagined workshop is April 9, 2018 at St. John in Darien.
If your parish is interested in accepting Bishop Caggiano’s Invitation to Lifelong Formation, please contact The Leadership Institute at email@example.com or 203.416.1670. To read the bishop’s invitation, visit www.formationreimagined.org.
List of parishes in attendance
Holy Spirit, Stamford
Our Lady of Grace, Stratford
Our Lady Star of the Sea, Stamford
Sacred Heart, Georgetown
St. Ann, Bridgeport
St. Catherine of Siena, Riverside
St. Catherine of Siena, Trumbull
St. Cecilia, Stamford
St. Elizabeth Seton, Ridgefield
St. James, Stratford
St. John, Darien
St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, Shelton
St. Mary, Bethel
St. Mary, Ridgefield
St. Paul, Greenwich
St. Peter, Danbury
St. Pius X, Fairfield
St. Rose of Lima, Newtown
St. Thomas Aquinas, Fairfield
St. Thomas More, Darien
St. Thomas the Apostle, Norwalk