Adult education has been on my heart in a growing way over the last few years. Of course, if you had told me ten years ago, when I
was first roped in began my volunteering as a catechist that I would be leaning toward adult education, I would have laughed so hard I would have fallen over.
“True,” I might have said, “I enjoy older kids. But adults? I don’t know enough to teach adults!”
And that would have just been the beginning of the conversation.
It didn’t take long as a catechist, back when I taught 3rd grade, to see that the connection was really with parents. My role, I quickly saw, was as more a farmer or gardner than a harvester.
I planted seeds, and I wasn’t even the primary planter. I was just helping.
That’s come home to me over the years, as I’ve worked with various age-groups (now primarily 5th grade and our 8th grade Confirmation class). Much of the time, the parents don’t know more than the kids. Many of them are almost terrified to take the reins, to teach, to take the lead.
I understand that. I do.
And it also breaks my heart.
I’ve been a catechist almost as long as I’ve been Catholic. I don’t know more than many of the people around me, but I do have this gift of teaching.
And the longer I teach, guide, and work with the kids, the more I’m convinced that we need something for adults.
But there are at least three huge hurdles, and I face them myself:
1. Lack of Time
I haven’t been to a parish Bible study or faith formation program in years. I’m in the season of small kids, and my husband works long hours.
2. Lack of Childcare
In our small parish, babysitting isn’t an option. I’m not saying it should be—coordinating childcare presents a whole other set of challenges, and I speak as one who’s tried to coordinate that for parish programs in the past).
3. Lack of Inclination
I also find that I’m done in the evenings: I don’t even want to leave the house or cut into the hour or so of awake time I might be lucky enough to get with my husband or a book.
So what can we do?
Recently, I reviewed a new Bible study program from Ascension Press over at CatholicMom.com. At the end of the post, I mentioned that if anyone was game for an online study, leave a comment.
We received so much feedback so quickly that we’re going to be organizing something to meet that need. And it made me think of the truths I’ve learned about adult catechesis in the years I’ve taught kids:
First, meet them where they are.
It might be the backyard, it might be via email, and it might be online. Everyone’s busy. In fact, saying you’re busy doesn’t even catch my attention anymore, because everyone I know is busy.
You might share a book or a talk. You might invite them to pray the rosary at a certain time tomorrow for a certain intention. You might have an online post to share.
This year, I’ve made a commitment to email every single lesson to the parents of my 5th graders the night before our class. I also make it available via a Facebook page I’ve set up for our class. And you know what? They read it. I know, because the kids have told me in various ways. I know, because although I never ever get a reply, I see the fruits of it in my class.
If the only catechesis those parents are getting is that email, then it’s better than nothing. If all they know is that their child is working on a trivia question and needs some help from them so they can get candy at the end of class, maybe it’s something they will learn too.
Second, be persistent.
Don’t give up. And don’t count low attendance as a reason to quit. If only one person attends or participates or gives you feedback, your efforts still matter.
Measuring isn’t a bad thing, but it is something that I often find discouraging, especially when I use metrics that remind me that the effort I’ve put into something far exceed the “payoff” I think I’m supposed to get.
In our parish, we’ve had a Lenten Soup Supper program for five years. It’s a simple program: a meal of soup, bread, and fruit, along with a brief program. This year, we had turnout that shocked everyone. But two years ago hardly anyone attended. Had our organizer not stuck with it, she would have never had a chance to be shocked at running out of chairs and needing another set of bowls.
Why do I need a reminder to enjoy myself? Maybe it’s that I take myself too seriously. Maybe it’s that I forget that the Catholic Church gives me more reasons to smile than almost anything else in my life. (Without the Catholic Church, I wouldn’t have met my husband or had my kids, and those kids crack me up hourly.)
Our faith is JOYFUL. It’s not always fun. It’s not always happy. It’s not always feel-good. But it should inspire a smile.
And smiles are contagious. They make people want to jump in.
All that said, I’m still looking.
There are some tremendous online programs, such as Living the Beatitudes, which starts today. I suspect this is where the future of adult education lies, but I also know from personal parish experience that people are looking for that local connection and relational opportunity.
What are your thoughts?