Parish’s family formation approach ahead of its time

| October 6, 2020 | 0 Comments

Seven years after Father Timothy Nolan began serving as the first pastor of St. Paul in Ham Lake in 1981, he said its traditional CCD program — with parents dropping off children for weekly instruction — wasn’t working.

Some parents did not appear to live their faith, including regular attendance at Sunday Mass, said Deb Lindahl, who supports and encourages parishes across the country that implement St. Paul’s alternative to CCD. The chances their children stayed Catholic were probably slim because their faith wasn’t being prioritized at home, she said.

Through directed prayer and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, she said, a small group working with then-pastor Father Nolan 32 years ago decided to discontinue that model and build a new one that included parents in their children’s religious instruction. Interestingly, Lindahl said, that approach — called family formation — has been used increasingly the past five years at other parishes.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops formally approved the parish’s family formation curriculum in 2019.

“(Father Nolan) had great wisdom and insight and courage to say … we’re not going to continue to do this,” she said. “We need to do something different.”

Family formation at St. Paul is offered to families with children in preschool through grade six, but parents are encouraged to involve the entire family in the weekly home lessons. In addition, parents and students come to the parish once a month for instruction. Children learn from a catechist in a grade-level classroom, and parents receive the same teaching from a presenter.

“Our goal is to catechize the parents,” Lindahl said, “so they’re living the faith and the kids are living and breathing it at home, and being immersed in it.”

The parish started receiving calls from former parishioners asking to be sent the lessons to use at home. The parish accommodated by making a few extra copies for requests. Not long afterward, pastors and other Catholics started calling to say they’ve been impressed by how particular families live their faith and learn that they’re using the parish’s materials, Lindahl said.

Word of St. Paul’s program has largely spread by word of mouth. By the end of last year, 148 parishes across the country were using it, “and this year, it’s well beyond that,” Lindahl said, estimating more than 200 users. One reason is the novel coronavirus pandemic, which has prompted some parishes to look for at-home alternatives for faith formation, Lindahl said.

The parish has sold its award-winning Family Formation program for nearly 20 years. It includes materials, available in English and Spanish, and customer support. St. Paul received the New Wineskins Award in 2012 from the National Conference for Catechetical Leadership.

In addition to offering the product and support, parish staff and volunteers regularly pray for all parishes using Family Formation. “Each month, our core team spends an hour in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament,” Lindahl said, “in praise and worship, a time of silence and praying a litany listing each parish by name.” They also pray for specific prayer intentions shared by parishes and for all families involved in Family Formation.

To learn more, visit churchofstpaul.com/family-formation or familyformation.net.

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Category: Local News