It's not your parents' faith formation

August 7, 2012

HOUSTON – Schoolchildren and parents are used to an academic calendar that marks the start and end of classroom learning. But living in full relationship with Christ is a lesson that takes a lifetime to experience and share freely with others.
In response to this call, the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston has changed the names of two of its pastoral ministry offices, effective Aug. 1, 2012. The Office of Continuing Christian Education is now known as the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis. The Office of Youth Ministry has changed its title to the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization. 

The changes are meant to reflect the understanding that evangelization and faith formation are lifelong efforts — ones that are the work of the entire Church. 

Youth ministry: More than just food and camaraderie
There’s a misperception that youth ministry is simply a matter of serving pizza or holding dances and lock-ins for adolescents, said Brian Johnson, Director of the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization. 

The top priorities for Catholic youth ministry are catechesis — the Church’s term for an education in faith and Church teachings — and evangelization. By changing the office’s name to reflect these prime concerns, the Archdiocese is “raising the bar for the mission and ministry of those who work with younger and older adolescents” and articulating that youth ministry programs must address the full faith development of young people at a critical time in their process of maturing, Johnson said. 

Under this model of lifelong faith formation, learning about the Catholic faith doesn’t “end” once a young person receives the Sacrament of Confirmation. Johnson said the office’s goal is to help the Church be perceived by youth as their spiritual home and a community of faith. By teaching adolescents that the Church is a place of welcome, the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization intends to lead young people into a lifetime of Christian discipleship.

An escalating number of young people leave the Catholic Church or stop attending Mass after a certain age, but “I don’t think we can afford as a Church to just say, ‘That’s the way it happens,’” Johnson said. “We can’t settle for that.”

A cycle of evangelization, catechesis for adults
The newly minted Office of Evangelization and Catechesis recognizes that in order for Catholics to be alive in their faith, they must first have a conversion experience — or what Julie Blevins, the office’s director, calls “the a-ha moment when one realizes Christ is the center of his or her life.”


The Office of Evangelization and Catechesis 
-Early Childhood Formation
-Elementary Formation 
-Sacramental Formation
-Adult Formation

The Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization
-Younger and Older Adolescent Catechesis (including Confirmation formation for youth, Quinceañera preparation and human sexuality formation)

In other words, evangelization comes first, followed by catechesis — which leads to further evangelization. “In any relationship where you fall in love, you want to learn as much as you can about that person,” Blevins said. Similarly, Catholics who fall in love with Jesus will naturally want to learn more about His teachings and way of life, and then be driven to share the faith with others, she said. 

To meet this need, the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis will enhance its focus on adult faith formation, offering local Catholics not simply opportunities for Catholic doctrinal knowledge, but guidance on key questions that mark the faith journey: How is faith put into practice? How are Catholic beliefs expressed? How does faith influence life experiences at home, work and in the community?

The Office of Evangelization and Catechesis will work to help Catholics know and articulate answers to these questions through study of Scripture, doctrine, prayer and moral formation. The office will continue to be a resource to parishes and Catholic schools in their efforts to foster lifelong catechesis and to form catechetical leaders who carry out this mission in parish or school communities. 

A new framework 
The new office titles reflect a paradigm shift that recognizes the connectedness between all pastoral ministries in the Archdiocese, Blevins said. With the other departments of the Secretariat for Pastoral and Educational Ministries, these newly named offices will collaborate in the shared ministry of catechesis.

“When we have well-formed adults, we have well-formed young people,” Johnson said. 

The changes in office titles coincides with the Archdiocese’s planned rollout of the “Framework for Lifelong Faith Formation,” a document that will serve as a guide for the faith development of all ages in the Archdiocese. Five years in the making, the framework document takes faith “themes” or “strands” on doctrines and suggests ways to teach and develop preschoolers to adults in understanding those elements of the Catholic faith. For example, the framework will offer guidance on how to teach and address the topic of “baptism” to various audiences, from young children to adults. 

Parishes will be asked to look at their own catechetical curriculum in light of the framework, which will be promulgated this October — the same month the universal Church marks the start of the “Year of Faith.” Pope Benedict announced a special “Year of Faith” to help Catholics appreciate the gift of faith and strengthen their commitment to sharing faith with others. The “Year of Faith” begins Oct. 11, 2012 (on the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council) and ends Nov. 24, 2013 (on the Feast of Christ the King). 

Implementing the vision 
About a third of parish directors of religious education and half of youth ministers in the Archdiocese are volunteers. The Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization and the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis will focus on assisting parishes with the development of those volunteer leaders. The offices will also focus on helping parishes without Directors of Religious Education meet the needs of preschool, elementary, younger and older adolescents and adults. 

“Every parish is unique, so we’ll work with parishes and catechetical leaders to see what works best for them,” Blevins said. 

The two offices are also exploring ways to merge some of their existing volunteer workshop offerings or catechetical leader formation efforts. 

The newly named offices expect to work this entire year on realizing the vision of their fresh titles and helping parishes with their implementation of this vision.

One Archdiocesan staff person who split time between the Office of Youth Ministry and the Office of Continuing Christian Education is now dedicated to Adolescent Catechesis as a member of the Office of Adolescent Catechesis and Evangelization. Another staff person who split time between the Office of Continuing Christian Education and the Catholic Schools Office now works full time in the Office of Evangelization and Catechesis, focusing on adult formation. 

Both offices will work collaboratively, along with the Catholic Schools Office, in implementing and reorganizing staff responsibilities that will unite the Archdiocese’s catechetical and evangelizing efforts.