Prepare ye! Our Religious Education classes begin next week and, like a shot of oxygen, the 10am Mass will be infused with the energy of youth! The two sets of classes are centered around that Mass (Grades 1 through 4 meet before, the older children after) as a symbol of the prayerfulness that is meant to be at the heart of our faith community. In that sense of prayerfulness, our Religious Education program (please, please, please, don’t call it “CCD” which hasn’t really existed for the last fifty years!) has incorporated a few changes this year.
In the past dozen years, the program has swelled from 27 children total, to a registration of 270 children last year. That kind of growth is a nice problem to have, but it calls for a constant re-evaluation in light of our overall mission and identity as a parish. For instance, we don’t charge for children’s religious education. I think we may be the only parish in the diocese that offers this service free of charge, but it is in keeping with our definition of what a parish “does”. Other things in our definition of “parish mission” include seeking direction from the Holy Spirit in prayer; building a sense of community among it’s members by providing spiritual, cultural, and intellectual opportunities to gather and converse and pray; and to be involved in outreach commitments which remind us that we are helping to build the Kingdom of God outside of our walls as well as within. Most of you reading this understand these points and have landed in this parish because you share this vision. More and more, though, we began to notice a “drop and run” mentality creeping into the parish through Religious Ed. There were people who dropped off their children for class, but had no desire to participate in parish life in any way, including prayer. That seems pretty pointless to me, considering that parental example is about 99% of how faith is taught and absorbed. It saddened me to think that these parents weren’t considering their actions as equally important and on par with anything being taught to their children in the classroom. So, along with a few relatively minor changes (i.e. registration will be done in person every year, rather than online or through the mail), we also have asked that any family who wishes to enroll their child in our Religious Ed program, also be willing to contribute ten hours (in the course of a year) to the parish in some form of service in any aspect of parish life.
Were there grumblings? I am happy to tell you that St. Anthony’s is very much a living and breathing human community, so you bet there were! Nothing direct, of course, even when, at the parent meetings, I asked for questions or comments. When I turned the audio dial on the “The Grapevine” up to 7 or 8, I heard about some of the tweets and twitters and messages and emails that ricocheted through cyberspace: “10 Hours Is Too Much!” (Really? Over the course of an entire year? In any avenue of parish life? From chopping onions for the Parish Picnic in July to arranging poinsettias in December to setting up tables for the Palm Sunday breakfast? We think that ten out of 8,760 in a year is pretty reasonable…); “I Don’t Like Being Told What To Do!” (So, does that mean if a child plays soccer, the parents aren’t told that the child has to show up for practices? At the parent meeting, we also made the point that nothing is forced on anyone. Volunteering some hours of service is simply a part of what it means to register your child with St. Anthony’s Religious Ed. If it doesn’t work for your family, then we are blessed to live in an area with many choices and that we would be happy to assist in registering your child in the program of another parish.); “We’ve Been Here So Long, We’re Not Changing Now” (This one puzzled me, since it was attributed to some who I haven’t seen in church since their child last received a sacrament and who haven’t been involved in any of our parish ventures. Does “being here” mean only that someone has filled out a census card? That’s not something we want to teach.)
However, I am also very happy to tell you that St. Anthony’s is very much a living and breathing human community where God dwells, so there were also many “Thanks For the Wake-up Call” and “Thanks For the Kick in the Pants. We Needed to Hear It!” and “I Am Happy to Help in Any Way That’s Needed.” Those were comments I heard, far and away, by the majority and affirmed a decision that was made only after much prayer and discussion.
We move on from here, an organic and ever-evolving community of faith. There’ll be some extra life and noise at the 10:00am Mass next week. Embrace it and welcome it. God dwells within it. Have some extra patience in the pews. A “new” family might be sitting in “yours.” Say hello and tell them it’s good that they’re here and that their child will settle down in time. Have some extra patience in the parking lot, too. Someone’s life depends on it. A couple extra minutes waiting to get out of the lot is worth that life, not to mention the spiritual life you’ll be developing with all this exercise of patience, good will, and humor!
We have a wonderful parish, singular in so many ways, yet connected to the one Body of Christ. Remember that we’re all teaching each other, teaching each other so many things, in so many ways…..