The Archdiocese of Denver is seeing the many fruits that Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila’s Restored Order Initiative is bearing for families and parishes across the state. It’s leading pastors and directors of religious education to rethink how to evangelize families as a whole and not simply catechize their children.
Christ the King Parish in Evergreen is one of these parishes. It has implemented a model of evangelization that prepares parents to teach their children about the faith, helping them become what they’re meant to be, the first educators of their children, as the Catechism says (CCC 2223).
“[After the Restored Order Initiative], with the parish council we identified some of the needs of our community, which were to build up the families,” said Father Jim Fox, pastor of the parish for five years. “I always thought we should do more than lip service to the parental promise of baptism – you are the first and best teachers of your children in ways of faith.”
This led the parish to sacrifice its long-standing and, in many ways, successful religious education program and replace it with a non-classroom model initiative that prepared parents to be responsible for their children’s religious education.
“At first, I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the new program. It was a completely different approach that truly relied on parents to be the real teachers of the faith,” said Sarah Aller, mother of two children in the program and former classroom catechist at the parish. “But now I see that it’s educating me in my faith as well, so I can teach my kids. I’ve learned how to better teach my children and refresh my faith.”
A family of faith
Father Fox and the core team – with members of different ages – meet with parents during the first part of the month to teach them the content that parents will then teach their children through conversations, fun activities and prayer.
“As we see in the Jewish roots of our faith, proclamation is an actual part of the faith,” said Christopher Moore, pastoral administrator of the parish, highlighting the importance of this step. “If you are not sharing [the faith], especially with your family, you are not living it.”
Moreover, each family has a mentor in case they have any questions about the content, want to give feedback or have prayer intentions during this time.
Toward the end of the month, all families meet, have a meal and mingle with other families. This provides a space to go over the activities and content of the month with the children and allows for a deeper reflection on the faith and reassurance from other families, Father Fox said.
“[During these gatherings] we try to make the questions experience-oriented and not just fact-oriented. We try to help them apply it to their lives,” Moore said. “This gives people a safe place to talk about the faith if they are uncomfortable. They can share their story and struggles with other people. Then they can carry the same idea into the workplace.”
Families are given practical ways to carry out this mission. The parish utilizes the book A Family of Faith by Sophia Press, but Father Fox and the core team modify it according to the needs of the community.
Some activities available for children and families include having a prayer corner in the house, conversation cards to hang from the car mirror or stick on the refrigerator, community service projects and daily or monthly activities such as keeping a journal.
“Car conversations [are] something we enjoy doing,” Aller said, “It forces you to make a time to talk about it as a family.”
The new “family of faith” program is not only preparing parents, but also bringing unity to the whole parish.
“The program seems to be drawing families more to the sacraments and through the sacraments to others,” Father Fox said.
“One of my favorite things about the program is that it’s intergenerational. We have the Martha’s and Mary’s [ministry] and the Knights of Columbus helping out,” Moore added. “You have older people interacting all the way down with little kids and sharing their faith in a meaningful way.
“The kids are seeing service, catechesis, evangelization – all the things that embody faith are being modeled to them at every age. People are getting opportunities to participate.”
“[Many people] like the fun family activities. [They] have told us that the curriculum is easy to integrate into family life, easy to teach and to understand,” said Laurie Jarvis, a family mentor in the program. “[The ‘family of faith’ program] with community involvement helps bring the faith from the head to the heart. It is very rewarding to watch Father Fox’s vision come to reality.”