Category Archives: Children’s Catechesis

Quick Takes…

7-Nightfever

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I love what Mgr. Charles Pope has written in this article on the plan he’s made for children’s catechesis in his parish. What I love most is his realisation…

It became clear to me in that moment that we could no longer do business as usual when it came to catechesis.

I love it because it is so courageous to stand back, look at what you’re doing (which you may have thought is GREAT for so long) and to say – in all honesty – is this working? What Mgr. Pope identifies as key is telling the kerygma. He does it in three sections – Sin – Redemption – Grace. It seems to me that sometimes the most effective plans for catechesis are the most simple.

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I stumbled across Mgr Pope’s article on the Forming Intentional Disciples Facebook Forum, which, if you have not been there yet — is BUZZING. Go and check it out! I cannot keep up with it, truth be told, let alone enter into any of the great discussions happening on there. If I get sick for a week or so, that’s where I’d be spending my time 😉

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In Portsmouth we’re excited that Sherry Weddell will actually be visiting us next June (cannot contain my excitement in fact). Even sooner than that, though, we have Jeff Cavins, creator of the Great Adventure Bible Timeline, gracing our cathedral on 14th November – more details here.

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Just published by CTS is Fr Stephen Wang’s, The New Evangelisation: What it is and how to do it. I’ve started reading it and it’s excellent. There are also very practical examples of new evangelisation initiatives in the UK. A must read!

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Finally, still on the topic of the new evangelisation, I leave you with this wonderful short clip of Nightfever. I cannot believe I have not even been to Nightfever yet, since so many of my friends in London coordinate it, and it takes place every six weeks in St Patrick’s, Soho – a church close to my heart. I am praying that one day we will be ready to host Nightfever in Portsmouth Cathedral – it is such a simple yet brilliant tool for the new evangelisation – inviting people off the streets to come into church, light a candle, come before Jesus. It is EXACTLY what Pope Francis is calling us to do.


He who sings prays twice

Image Edward Morton

Up until this year, I never seriously thought about including singing in catechesis. I noticed in some of the resources we use that they recommended hymns or songs for the catechetical session, but I flipped past these suggestions. Organising a catechetical session is hard work enough without finding a musician, needless to mention the impossible , awkward task of actually getting people to sing. Let’s just say, British Catholics are not known for their singing.

In the back of my mind, though, I’ve always been aware of the power of singing, especially of praise. When we praise God, we forget for a moment our troubles and problems, and praise him because he is who he is. Regardless of what we ‘get’ from him. Praise takes us out of ourselves, and I’ve found, it’s one of the best things you can do when you’re saddened, discouraged or grumpy. Try it!

So, singing in catechesis this year kind of happened by accident. We’ve introduced it in Confirmation and in one of our First Communion classes, Come Follow Me. In Confirmation, one of our catechists this year just happens to be a great musician. We got the kids singing praise songs on the retreat, and this has continued into the programme each week. We begin with a song before the Liturgy of the Word, and we always have singing during the time of prayer at the end. It really adds a deeper dimension to the catechetical process… Music raises the heart to God and can therefore be a great instrument for conversion (which is the goal of catechesis!)

In the Come Follow Me sessions, you are instructed to sing with the children as you go into the ‘Holy Place of Meeting’, as you prepare your hearts to listen to the Word of God, and during the prayer time at the end. So I really had no choice. I had to sing! I am a very average singer, so this is not exactly my comfort-zone. But actually it has worked well, and I’ve discovered that when they’re a bit hyper, singing is a great way of calming kids down. It really does help them to pray. They love singing, and they love to learn new songs.

So, if you haven’t yet introduced singing into your catechesis… I encourage you to try!

As for adult catechesis – I haven’t branched out there just yet… This could be incredibly, as our young people say, ‘awkward turtle…’ Would love to hear from anyone who has incorporated this into RCIA or any other adult catechesis.


October

Dear readers, it’s that busy Autumn term again and I’ve been out of the blogging loop. This past month I have been…

Sadly not eating too much apple pie…

  • Launching a formation course for new catechists in our deanery/area
  • Teaching some inspiring young people from Salisbury about how they can be great catechists
  • Missing the heat and my friends of Kansas City, Kansas 😦
  • Planning a series on the CCC for January onwards… (watch this space!)
  • Geeking up on teaching strategies and classroom management in this brilliant book
  • Enjoying a delicious luncheon with the Catholic Women of the Year
  • Crying as I saw Dr Caroline Farey receive the message for catechists from the Pope – and knowing that she was praying for all of us catechists
  • Burrowing away in the library working on the literature review for my dissertation
  • Taking advantage of the wonderful Wholefoods store which is even more wonderfully near the library I’ve been using
  • Meeting the new students at SPES and giving them an introductory lecture on prayer
  • Receiving an email each day with a little chunk of the Catechism, specially for the Year of Faith
  • Reading this fantastic book with my book club
  • Seeing for myself that Come Follow Me really does work as amazingly effective children’s catechesis
  • Making Delia’s yummy cottage pie with cheese-crusted leeks
  • Hanging out at the new Vocations Centre for the Archdiocese of Southwark
  • Embarrassing my 16-year-old brother by weeping as he starred as Joseph in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
  • Wondering whether I’ll need to take out a loan for the number of weddings I’ve been invited to next year

…and relishing my time with family and friends, which, after all, is what life is mostly about 🙂

What’ve you been up to? Share in the comments!


The Catholic Parish

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet for the first time William O’Leary, Director of Religious Education at Ascension Parish in Kansas City. I have known William through Catechesis in the Third Millennium for about a year now, so it was great to meet him in real life. It goes to show – even in this enormous country, there is a myriad of links connecting Catholics – Dorian at the Art and Beauty Course happened to know William too!

When I get stressed out back home in my parish, I need to remember Ascension. They literally have hundreds of children in their catechetical programmes. When I visited, the summer formation programme was in full swing, and nearly 200 kids were coming in every day for two weeks of catechesis. Parents can choose whether to take the year-round option, or the summer-intensive option. So I got to help out with first-graders, take part in a music session, and see a fifth-grade class too.

These programmes need an army of catechists and helpers, as you can imagine, and William has done an incredible job in preparing the programme, manuals for each grade, and providing catechist formation. Every catechist had created a sacred space in their classroom.

Ultimately, it’s encouraging and exciting to see how truly ‘universal’ the Church is – how universal human nature is, too (we encounter all the same problems they do… how refreshing). How wonderful to be a Catholic and come and experience a parish thousands of miles away, with the same, universal vision for catechesis, and the same passion in implementing it. May we continue to journey together, learning from each other.


“Full Sweep” Youth Catechesis

It was refreshing to read Archbishop Vincent Nichols’ words about catechesis for young people. He said we need to transmit to them the “full sweep” of the Catholic Faith. Thank you Archbishop 🙂 I couldn’t agree more.

When are young people supposed to receive this “full sweep” of catechesis? In the past, it’s been left to schools, and this is clearly not enough. In reality, catechesis is only received by our young people when they are preparing to receive a sacrament. This culture and mentality within parishes and families (catechesis-is-for-sacraments) is part of the reason why young people do not receive a “full sweep”, that is, the full Deposit of the Faith.

This is a real deficiency. In our own parish, although we do have catechesis for all age groups, because this is not taken up by many families, it means that we snatch the opportunity at First Communion preparation and Confirmation preparation to hand over (traditio – this is what catechesis does) the full Deposit of Faith.

It would not be a Confirmation parents’ evening without someone piping up and asking, “Why do we have a full year’s preparation when such-and-such a parish has only six weeks?” Sorry, but such-and-such a parish is not fulfilling its canonical obligations to give a full catechesis. Unless I am missing something and all those teenagers are receiving formation elsewhere? No, didn’t think so.

I recognise, though, that our situation is not ideal. If these teenagers were receiving weekly catechesis as a matter of course through their lives, preparation for Confirmation would focus purely on the sacrament – teaching to the rite, explaining the meaning of the prayer the Bishop prays over them, the anointing.

I agree 100% with Archbishop Nichols. For it to become a reality, a culture change within parishes and families needs to gradually take place. I don’t want to say this is impossible. I wonder to myself what would happen if we announced one day that all families would have to commit to regular catechesis for their children from 7 until their teens, if they want them to prepare for sacraments. I know, I know, there would be an exodus from our parish of biblical proportions and we would be left with a tiny remnant of around three children to catechise. Hmm… so how do we do this?


Ten Top Tips for Managing Your Class

OK, readers. These come from someone who has zero training as a teacher. But they are what I have picked up and learned (often the hard way) from giving catechesis myself. It is hard to find catechists who tick all the boxes – are good teachers, know the faith well, can manage a room full of children or teenagers – so therefore we often have to teach and learn these skills on the job. Please add any of your own tips in the comments!

1. Don’t forget you’re in charge! 😉 I know this sounds obvious – but I’ve known plenty of catechists who don’t like to assert themselves too much. I think it’s maybe a mixture of lack of confidence, not wanting to be unpopular with the kids, and perhaps also a misguided sense that Christians are ‘nice’ and a little bit timid and shouldn’t be too strict. However, we all know that young people feel secure and cared for when there are clear boundaries, and this means a catechist does need to ‘impose themselves’ a little bit on the class.

2. Have a clear, crisp beginning: If you just kind of drift into the catechesis, chances are young people won’t be engaged or won’t be clear about what’s expected of them. Routines are good: if they know what they need to do as soon as they arrive, chances are they’ll get in the habit of doing it.

3. Children fulfil the expectations you have of them: So make sure they’re clear right from the start. For older children, get them to make the ground rules themselves and remind them of them every now and again when needed. Be clear about what the consequences are and carry them through. Conversely, you can enforce a sense of low expectation simply by allowing bad behaviour: if children get away with getting up from their seat whenever they feel like it, this will start becoming the norm. Before you know it, chaos will rule!

4. Walk around as you speak: Don’t stand stationary. Moving around keeps your children on their toes a little and keeps them engaged. Don’t give them a chance to switch off.

5. Don’t start speaking until there is silence: Sounds obvious, but you wouldn’t believe the number of times I’ve seen catechists try to keep speaking, battling against an undercurrent of noise. Again, if young people realise they can get away with even the slightest hint of this, soon this will become normal. The worst thing is having to shout to make yourself heard. Don’t do it to your voice!

6. Keep a quick pace: This is more important than we can imagine. Catechists want to cover lots of points, and before they know it the young people are bored, disengaged, doodling on anything they can find. Keep things snappy! Switch activities often. Use a wide variety of teaching and learning methods. Don’t give anyone time to be bored.

7. If things get out of hand, don’t panic: Stay calm. You can’t be in control of the situation unless you’re calm. If you are someone who rarely shouts, then they will know they’ve overstepped the mark if you need to speak sternly. And it’s important you do! Just because “it’s not school”, doesn’t mean that we have to overlook bad behaviour. So, move somebody away from their friends if they are disruptive. Speak to a child one-to-one if they are rude. Do everything out of love for the children you are forming.

8. Get to know each of your young people personally: Learn their names, if you can, as soon after the first session as possible, and use them. Speak with them socially in addition to giving catechesis. When I first started giving Confirmation catechesis, the session began with a social time. The catechists would chat in one room, and the candidates would chat in the other. I felt this was bad practice, we needed to mix with them! Be interested in their lives. Show that you care about what’s going on with them. You will find that they will soon come and talk to you freely. Especially with challenging children, ensure that the contact you have with them is mostly positive, not negative.

9. Ensure opportunities for everyone to participate: Even quiet children. It’s important, for the Application stage of the catechesis, that we hear their responses, that they feel comfortable to ask questions. I remember one girl in a Confirmation class one year mentioned almost right at the end of the programme that she wasn’t sure God even existed! Something had gone wrong there – the Application part of the catechesis hadn’t worked for this girl. With quiet kids, silly games are a great way of breaking the ice, and getting people to open up a little. Recently, I played a game with a group of teenagers: they were in two teams, and each child had a sour sweet – sourest I could find – eyewateringly sour. They had to eat the sweet quickly as they could before the next person in their team could begin theirs. It’s fun to watch, it gets them to laugh, what more could you want?!

10. Pray for and know your young people: It’s obvious, but how much do we remember this? Let’s resolve to pray for each of our young people – by name – every week or every month (depending how many you have!) For catechists of small groups, it is easier to pray very specifically for each child and their needs.

When we know the children we’re catechising, we know when they’re tired and not absorbing anymore, we know when they are a bit flat and need a game to get going, we know when there is confusion or discouragement which would benefit from an open chat with the whole group. If we simply plough ahead with the catechesis we have planned, we’re not being the best catechists we can be.


This Week’s Top Five… Catechetical Highlights

1. Giving catechesis on the Our Father to the catechumens. In the Fifth Week of Lent, they are presented with the Lord’s Prayer as a ‘foretaste’ and reminder of the Father who will be theirs after their Baptism. What I love about our catechumens is – they really know they will become children of God the Father 🙂

2. A great Confirmation catch-up class: two brilliant, bright girls with some fantastic questions about Genesis, the historicity of the Gospels, the meaning of evil… More teenagers like this please!

3. A brilliant Catholicism session on prayer: small groups shared about their own experience of prayer, and we talked about the ‘fasting of the senses’ as a means to deepen our prayer.

4. Showing the first half of the Human Experience to our Confirmation class – a powerful film to get them thinking about the dignity of the human person and the real meaning of happiness.

5. Adoration with our First Communion children. Every term they have half-an-hour of led prayer in front of the Blessed Sacrament.