The Catholic Diocese of Erie is rethinking ways to anchor children in the faith

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Confirmation in the Catholic Diocese of Erie will no longer be a year-long, finite foundation of faith, and it won’t be confined to the classroom.

Not only is the diocese changing the timing of confirmation in the church, from grades 11 to 9, but it is also introducing new programs for children before their confirmation and for adolescents after confirmation to ground them in the faith. .

The focus will not be on classroom instruction.

Children in grades six through eight will learn and share their faith in brief small group sessions. After confirmation, teens will continue to meet in small groups, work with mentors to address faith, spiritual and life issues, and have opportunities to serve, both in church and in missionary work.

“Younger students will have the opportunity to learn through discussions, activities and some type of challenge the week before their sacramental or confirmation year,” said Deacon Steve Washek, executive director of the faith formation office of the catholic diocese. of Erie. Washek led a faith-training team in an 18-month study of alternative ways to help ground and engage students in their faith.

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“After confirmation, students will have the opportunity to experience what it means to be a parishioner themselves, rather than a child of their parents in the church, before heading off to college and separating from their parish” , Washek said.

Parents can learn more about the changes during virtual meetings on Monday.

Why change? stem a tide

Children left the church en masse before they were old enough to be confirmed.

“According to research, by the age of 10, 17% of children have left the Catholic Church. By the time children reach the age of confirmation or graduation, that number jumps to 67% “, Washek said. “What we’ve done isn’t working to keep kids engaged and involved in the church.”

Students are not interested in the traditional teaching of faith in the classroom.

“Research also shows that students say they would really like different ways of receiving information,” Washek said. “They don’t want to receive information while sitting in a classroom for an hour and a half straight. They are more interested in sound bites, absorbing information little by little. »

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The goal is to give students a personal relationship with Christ and a solid foundation for lifelong faith, Bishop Erie Lawrence Perisco said in a letter on the faith formation website of the diocese.

“Our new approach shifts from a classroom model to a discipleship model. Using a number of proven approaches…the focus is on guiding each young person into a personal relationship with Christ “, said Persico.

Scripture and catechesis will remain essential parts of the process, the bishop said.

“But small group discussions, service opportunities, and worship experiences are more fully integrated. We know that strengthening a personal relationship with Christ leads to growth in the desire to know more and embrace the fullness of the Catholic faith,” Persico said.

Changes: from 6th to 12th grade

Students in grades six through eight will participate in a program called Edge, with brief catechism or scripture teachings, small group activities and discussions, and a weekly challenge.

“A few pilot parishes are working with Edge this year,” Washek said. “The students involved said they really understood the faith better, were more engaged and felt closer to Christ.”

Students in Catholic schools will not be required to participate since they receive a religious education at school.

“Nevertheless, we will encourage them to participate in the groups and get to know other students before their confirmation year in ninth grade,” Washek said.

Students will prepare for confirmation in ninth grade and continue to connect with others in small groups after confirmation. In Grade 10, the focus will be on topics of interest to students.

“It could be, what does it mean to be a man or a woman today, or growing up issues ― topics that matter to them ― to help them stay engaged,” Washek said.

In Grade 11, students will connect with adult mentors to discuss spirituality, faith, and life issues. Grade 12 students will have the opportunity to participate in parish ministry and mission trips.

“The tenth year will be the pivotal year,” Washek said. “We cannot bring students back after they have been confirmed. We can only encourage and engage them.”

The changes will raise concerns and require the engagement of parents and other adults, Washek said.

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“Any significant change in anything is definitely going to cause unrest, and it certainly does,” Washek said. “Adults will wonder what it means to them to be leaders in faith formation, whether they need to change the way they do things, and how they will get more volunteers.

“These are legitimate questions. We will have to hire more adults in the parishes, but sometimes the commitment will not be for a whole year teaching catechism. Someone can come for a short period, more than six weeks perhaps, to connect with students in different ways, even for a college essay writing night or to talk with a student interested in a certain college major if they work in that field. increase adult faith formation in a parish.

Implementation and more information

The parishes will decide when the new programs will be introduced.

They can choose to begin the pre-confirmation Edge program as early as August and continue to roll out programs for older students as participants progress to higher levels.

Parishes can also choose to start in August 2023. Small parishes, with few students in each grade level, may need even more time to plan how best to use the new programs.

Parents can learn more about the new faith-training programs for students during virtual meetings on Monday. Meetings will take place at 2 p.m., 6 p.m. and 7:45 p.m. on Zoom. The link at bit.ly/3MPYts6 says this is the 7:45 p.m. meeting but can be used for any of the three meetings.

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Contact Valerie Myers at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @ETNmyers.

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