The catechetical program works best when education takes place at home as well as in the classroom. At the beginning of the year, it is important to convey to parents that they are on a spiritual path together with their children. The children are aware that they have come to catechism class to learn about the faith; parents, however, need to be guided to see how they can participate in aspects of the catechetical program. This can be difficult because parents often feel inadequate to teach their children about the sacraments or other aspects of Catholicism. You can help parents feel as if they are participating more substantially in their children’s faith formation and in the parish community by making them aware of what their children are learning. Here are a few ideas to help accomplish this goal.
In advance of the catechetical year, make contact with parents and invite their involvement by asking them about their own experiences with religious education. Ask them also what they hope for, for their children in the coming year. Send a letter with a reply form or give them a call and ask for a reply at their convenience, allowing them some time to think over the questions. Your actions will let parents know that their thoughts and hopes are valued, and the responses will help you learn more about families’ backgrounds and specific needs.
Bring parents and children together on the first day. Arrange to have catechists, parents, and children gather in one room for the initial 15 minutes of the first class. Make sure to use bulletin announcements and letters to parents to let everyone know ahead of time when and where the gathering will take place. Welcome them all with adequate seating and something to eat and drink (such as donuts and cider). Kick off the catechetical year by making a five-minute speech outlining some of the highlights and goals for the year. After the speech encourage everyone—catechists, parents, and children—to introduce themselves. Catechists can then take the children to their assigned rooms, but parents should be invited to stay and mingle.
Get parents involved. Catechists can invite parents to participate in catechesis by having them come to sessions and share personal experiences about relevant topics. On the eve of a child’s First Communion, for example, parents could tell what was most memorable about their own First Communion or discuss a time when going to Communion had a special meaning. The same can be done before Reconciliation or Confirmation. Other topics that parents could speak about include vocational/professional choices or courtship (for appropriate age groups). Some wonderful stories are bound to surface, and parents will discover their own reasons to get involved. This activity also demonstrates to parents the kinds of subjects that are important for them to examine with their children.
Consider that you have an opportunity to nurture the spiritual lives of the parents just as much as those of the children. Find or create a prayer card with a prayer for parents and hand it to them during the meeting on the first day. Develop pages on the parish Web site for parents of children who are in the CCD program. The Web pages could include explanations of topics that the children are learning at the various grade levels; ideas for parents who want to refresh their own understanding of the sacraments; and spiritual encouragement for parents in the form of prayers, essays, articles, or poems.
(The sample prayer below could be printed on cards to hand out to participants’ parents. On the reverse side the card could also include the schedule of classes for the year.)
Prayer for the Start of a New Year
O God, we long to know you and to love you, but the busyness of life often gets in the way. Help us to recognize the ordinary, daily ways that our family can learn about you and grow closer to you. We know that you are with us, leading us and guiding us on our way. Amen.