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Religious Education Deja Vu

I wrote this post last year:

To teach or not to teach, that is the question. It is that time of year again. CCD will be starting up in another month and our parish needs teachers. I have been an on again-off again catechist for years. I feel compelled to teach in one form or another which is probably why I am blogging. However, do I really want to commit to a year of teaching seventh graders in preparation for confirmation? You see, my desire is to teach the parents of these seventh graders so that they can properly prepare their own children. My frustration with teaching CCD is that I feel like I am working independently of rather than in conjunction with parents. Parents must be the primary catechists. Unfortunately, as with most Catholic parishes, we don’t have an established culture of adult religious education. So here is my dilemma. Do I break new ground and work to initiate a parents’ religious education program or do I put my energy into the established program and hope I can teach the children well enough to have a “trickle up” effect on the parents? Is there a way to do both?

As you may remember, I ended up teaching seventh grade CCD last year. While I made every effort to include the parents, I don’t think I was wholly successful. Last week I once again trudged to the CCD office. Not only was I offering to lead a discussion group on the book Keeping Your Kids Catholic, but I was suggesting we try to offer a series on Pope Benedict XVI’s book The Apostles using the study guide available on the Our Sunday Visitor web site. This year we have a new DRE. She is young, well educated at Franciscan University in Steubenville, and sensitive to my concerns about adult education. When I proposed bringing a faith formation program for the parents, once again I was met with, “This sounds wonderful, but we can’t field enough teachers for the CCD program. Won’t you please teach seventh grade CCD?” Déjà vu.

Right now we are stuck in a cycle of poorly catechized parents that don’t support faith formation at home. Their children are in the parish CCD system where we provide a band-aid fix with classroom style religious education. These children then do their time in CCD and are sent out into the world. However, an hour a week for eight months out of the year cannot make up for a lifetime lacking in family faith formation. These children are very likely to grow up to be poorly catechized parents and the cycle begins anew. I really think the only way to break this cycle is to address the parents directly. Their lack of involvement is more out of ignorance than out of indifference. When was the last time you heard a DRE or a priest tell parents that parents are the primary catechists of their children? It is the parents’ responsibility to form the faith of their children. The parish is here to help but children learn to live the faith when their family lives the faith.

What I see right now is a religious education culture that all too willingly takes on the total burden of faith formation in children. It is a system that gladly excludes parents because “most of them are so ignorant about the faith anyway, they really aren’t any help. We are the experts so just leave it up to us.” Unfortunately, teaching the faith is not like teaching algebra. We catechists can give children facts and talk about examples of how the faith is lived, but children will not really embrace living the faith unless their families live the faith. We may plant seeds that lie dormant until some future experience causes them to germinate. But wouldn’t it be much better if their families were to nurture these seeds so that they sprout now?

In spite of my misgivings, I will probably end up teaching seventh grade CCD again. I probably will not see my dream of adult education in our parish be realized this fall. What I am going to suggest is that we invite our families to attend the Saturday morning Mass on one specific Saturday every month. I think if families see other families doing something extra for their faith, it will strengthen them in their convictions. Perhaps we could even come up with some sort of monthly family newsletter to suggest little things each family could do in the upcoming month to bring our Catholic faith into their homes. Maybe if we can find just a little energy to focus on building up our “domestic churches” we will have fewer poorly catechized parents and much more faith formation going on in our families.


Lisa said…
I am a new reader to your blog and man did this comment really speak to me on so many levels.

I see the plea for Rel Ed teachers (CCD in my day) and I wish I could volunteer to teach, but I feel so unprepared to do so. In fact, I have volunteered to teach on at least two occasions and at the end of the year, I felt the kids were in sadder shape than when we started.

Now, as a parent, I realize how much I don't know. I know a bit and I know the actual rules too (thanks to a great bunch of ladies online at CMOMC!), but I would NEVER know how to teach a child about it--even my own child.

I struggle getting the kids to mass each week and getting them to pay attention for a small portion. Sorry to be getting off track a little. What I mean to say is, for some of us parents, a class like you suggest, with suggestions about the "little things" would mean so much. Keep making your suggestions. God will find a way for you to reach your goal.
Jim said…
"I feel compelled to teach in one form or another which is probably why I am blogging." -- Dr. Hunnell

And as one who has learned much from you, please don't stop blogging!

"My frustration with teaching CCD is that I feel like I am working independently of rather than in conjunction with parents." -- Dr. Hunnell

My father taught CCD last year. I think he taught a group of fourth graders. During the first class, he asked his class of about 20 students to take an informal, anonymous poll. One of the questions asked was "How often does your family attend Mass?"

Only 4 out of 20 students said that their families attend Mass weekly and on Holy Days of Obligation. The overwhelming majority of students said that they attend Mass on Easter and on Christmas. Some students said that their folks drop them off at Mass and pick them up an hour later. One child wrote that in addition to attending Mass on Christmas and on Easter Sunday, "We also attend Mass on that day when they put cigarette ashes on our heads. My mom likes showing everyone at work what a good Catholic she is."

Yeah, I would say that the desperate need for adult religious education classes is pretty much evident. Good luck with whatever decision you make, Dr. Hunnell. Your students are lucky to have you as their (our) teacher.
Rosemary Bogdan said…
May God continue to guide you. You have good ideas.
Anonymous said…
I taught high school freshmen for several years and saw many of the same parental faith formation problems. One of the things I did was send home a newsletter once a month explaining what we were studying in class. I also used it as an opportunity for parental catachesis by having several short articles about Catholic beliefs. For example, a short article on the doctrine of Purgatory, or our belief in the Real Presence, or why we get ashes on Ash Wednesday, or what is the get the point. The parents often expressed great appreciation for the newsletters and mentioned how much they were learning from their children. If you would like, you can contact me at and I will send you a sample or two of the newsletters. By the way, they were mentioned and quoted in "Raise Happy Children, Raise Them Saints" by Mary Ann Budnik.
Roseanna Hatke
Genie Elizabeth said…
Love the blog, keep the wonderful work coming. As I am preparing for marriage and a family you have given me numerous ideas, Thank you!
David Jackson said…
Our parish does CCD for all ages on Sunday evenings. This year we're beginning an adult education program called "Sunday Night Live! targeting parents who usually they drop their kids off for "Sunday School", go do their shopping or whatever, and then pick them up. We're hoping to get them to stay by offering a program that is a mixture of some humor along with serious catechism. I'll let you know how it goes.
Anonymous said…
We introduced talks on the faith for parents. Fr Guy led a six week course & we averaged about 20 parents a was quite a good start & we plan to recommence in the autumn..

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