I Don’t Want the Best

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Last year our diocesan department hosted a year-long discipleship program at a parish. At the introductory session the parish offered the use of a new LCD television mounted in the gathering space where we were presenting. It was obvious that the parish was very proud of the TV and wanted to make good use of it.

After that first session, our working group vowed never to use it again.

What we quickly discovered during that first session was that the LCD was inadequate to our needs — not because of the picture quality or a technological problem, but because we had grossly underestimated the number of people who would show up! The TV was too small for people in the back to see, mounted in such a way that only those sitting directly in front of it could get a clear view of the screen, and could not be moved to accommodate the entire group. In subsequent gatherings we brought our own portable projector.

My purpose here is not to put down the parish for purchasing the LCD television — for most of their needs it is no doubt perfect! But it is to point out that the “latest-and-greatest” isn’t necessarily the best choice for our ministries. Gains in one area (for instance, a sharper image on an LCD screen) sometimes mask drawbacks in other areas (screen size and usable viewing angles) that can limit the actual use. In our case, an older LCD projector turned out to offer us greater flexibility, which allowed us to respond in a more nimble way to actually meet our changing needs for this program. (Imagine if the number of attendees had exceeded the size of the room where the LCD TV was mounted — we would have had no way to display our presentation!)

This is true not just for technology, but also for catechetical programs.

It’s easy to be distracted by the new shiny and buy into a program, technology, or idea without considering how it fits into our established use patterns or weighing the pros and cons in real-life ministry settings. As catechetical leaders who are called to steward the resources we have been entrusted with, it behooves us to do our due diligence before investing time and money into something. For me, this includes asking my colleagues for their input since they bring experience and perspectives very different from mine. They often see things that I am blinded to — this is one reason having a good braintrust is so valuable!

Again, this isn’t to say that we shouldn’t explore new possibilities or dismiss new programs and ideas. But it is to say that we are called to exercise the discretion called for by Christ: “Every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” (Matthew 13:52)

Have you ever been suckered in by the new shiny? How can we exercise good discernment in bringing out the new and the old in our ministries?

Are Your Tweets Putting Your Ministry at Risk?

5897611358_5c15cd6f87_bYesterday I ran across a story about a recent Federal Trade Commission settlement with Deutsch LA, an advertising firm, regarding their social media marketing on behalf of a client.

Long story short: Deutsch LA a) tweeted information for a client and b) encouraged employees to do the same on their personal accounts, c) without disclosing the business relationship between the client and the company or the employee and the company. The FTC ruled this a violation of their disclosure rules. These rules state that if you promote something for which you have a vested interest (including, but not exclusively, a monetary interest) you must disclose that fact. This is one reason, for instance, I always state in my book reviews if I received a free review copy — that fact may color my perception of the book and readers should be aware of that fact.

Similarly, if an employee tweets or blogs something on behalf of their employer, they have an interest in it and that fact should be disclosed. These rules have been in place for years, but with the advent of new media the boundaries are a little blurry about what constitutes adequate disclosure.

This got me thinking about implications for employees of Catholic parishes, schools, and other ministries who use blogs, Twitter, Instagram, and other social media to promote their activities.

(Here’s where I add a disclaimer that I am not a lawyer and don’t play on on TV, so don’t take any of the following as legal advice.)

I regularly tweet and blog about the activities of my diocese. As I read the issue (and the original FTC rules about disclosure in social media), I should be disclosing in the tweet or blog post (or whatever social media I’m using) my relationship as an employee of the diocese. It’s not enough to state in my bio or elsewhere on the page that I am employed by the diocese, since this does not meet the FTC’s “proximity and placement” rule. (I also don’t see any exemption for nonprofit organizations.)

So, for instance, this tweet would be a violation of the rule, because “our” does not clearly name the relationship between myself and the diocese:

But this one would include proper disclosure, since it references “our office,” making it clear that I work for the sponsoring organization:

(The FTC says you can also disclose through the use of hashtags such as #client or #ad.)

Obviously this has big implications for those who work in Catholic ministry and how they promote their ministry’s events and interests. Our diocese is already working to make sure we can give good advice to help priests, deacons, consecrated religious, and lay employees follow these disclosure rules in their blogs and other social media.

In the meantime, I would recommend everyone keep an eye on their use of social media to promote their ministries to ensure that we are following “best practices” and not inadvertently misleading people regarding our relationships with them.

Photo Credit: daniel.d.slee via Compfight cc

Forming Intentional Disciples in the Parish

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A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to record a video session for the USCCB’s Diocesan Educational and Catechetical Leadership Institute. The video, “Forming Intentional Disciples in the Parish,” is now available.

The session includes a few handouts to download; you can access the slides and discussion questions as a PDF file. The other handouts are available in the video session.

Thank you to Michael Steier and the Secretariat for Evangelization and Catechesis for the invitation to record this video session. It was a lot of fun to produce!

United In Your Praise: Non-Catholic Teachers and Catholic Schools

Last weekend at our Diocesan Adult Enrichment Conference I gave a breakout session on our diocese’s expectations of Christians from other traditions who teach in our Catholic schools. This is a question we often get from principals and teachers; I was very pleased to have the opportunity to address the issue and thankful for the warm reception of what could be a controversial subject.

This short video offers an overview of what I told those who attended the breakout session:

Videos: Building a Better Disciple Series

This past Monday evening I completed my five-part webinar series “Building a Better Disciple.”

All five videos are available to view. In addition, slides and catechist formation participation forms for catechists and teachers in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois are available at BuildingABetterDisciple.tumblr.com.

Thanks again to everyone who participated in the live webinars. This was a fun and enlightening experiment in webinar-based catechist formation and I already have some ideas for a video-based formation series in the spring. Stay tuned!

Analyzing Post-Conciliar Catechesis: A Blindspot?

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A few weeks ago I read a defense of catechesis in the 1970s by Cathleen Kaveny on Commonweal’s blog. Ms. Kaveny was confirmed in 1978 (coincidentally, the year I was born) and gives a heartfelt apologia against those (including Fr. Robert Barron) who criticize post-conciliar religious education:

For many years, I was sympathetic to that analysis. But I am increasingly uneasy with the wholesale dismissal of the catechetical programs of my youth. First, the stock caricature of the period is unfair. The programs had far more content then they are given credit for. Second, the criticism only reinforces polarization within the church. Scapegoating 1970s religious-education programs fosters the illusion that the church’s problems can be fixed by going backward, by inoculating children with something like the simple question-and-answer method and content of the Baltimore Catechism. But the root problem facing the church, then and now, is not catechesis.

Her analysis continues with an appeal that I am sympathetic to:

My generation was not lost because of religious miseducation. It was lost because of the changes in the culture. No CCD program, no matter how rich and nuanced, could overcome the challenges created by the simultaneous breakdown and reconfiguration of the institutional Catholic world and the American social world.

This is a piece that is often missing when examining religious education in the years following the Second Vatican Council. The Church was completely unprepared for the radical and rapid shifts in society — an irony given Vatican II’s roots in an aggiornamento that envisioned dialogue with the surrounding culture. Those who would criticize the catechists of the period would do well to keep that historical and cultural situation in mind.

Yet for all her pleas Ms. Kaveny’s analysis rings incomplete due to a glaring omission: nowhere does she address evangelization. Indeed, the word is conspicuously absent from her post. She, like many of her generation, seems to take for granted that the young people in parish formation programs and Catholic schools were familiar with the person of Jesus Christ — not just in stories or catechetical texts, but through a deep and abiding relationship with him.

But, as Sherry Weddell reminds us in Forming Intentional Disciples, this is not something we can take for granted. Part of those sweeping cultural changes alluded to by Ms. Kaveny is a wholesale forgetting of the story of Christianity: the reality of sin, the need for God’s saving help, and the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ.

If Christians are to ensure that there is a next generation of believers, they will need to find ways to tell the stories of the faith, as well as their own individual stories of conversion. That is, they will need to focus on the work of evangelization in witness and proclamation, for without evangelization catechesis cannot be fruitful, regardless of the cultural context in which we find ourselves.

Image from The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism (1969)

Free Webinar: The Pastoral Project of Evangelii Gaudium

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Next Tuesday, November 11, two members of my department will host a webinar in which they discuss their trip to Rome to participate in an international conference on Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium:

In September 2014 Carlos Tejeda (director for marriage and family life) and Kyle Holtgrave (associate director for youth and young adult ministry) traveled to Rome to participate in the International Meeting on the Pastoral Project of Evangelii Gaudium.

In this free webinar Kyle and Carlos will share what they heard and saw during the meeting and how the “Joy of the Gospel” can impact your parishes and ministries in our diocese.

Sponsored by the Department for Catechetical Services of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois and funded by generous contributions to the Annual Catholic Services Appeal and the Harvest of Thanks, Springtime of Hope Campaign.

We invite anyone who is interested to join us for this webinar; registration is free at https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/100000000064888004.

Evangelizing and Catechizing the ‘Net’ Generation

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Today I’m offering my talk “Evangelizing and Catechizing the ‘Net’ Generation” at the Indiana Conference for Catechetical Leadership. Below are my slides, notes, and resources for the session. Thanks to everyone who attended!

Slides

Notes

Web Resources

Books

Videos

Tools

Of Halloween Candy and Evangelization

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When I was a kid, my favorite stop on Halloween was a house one block over from ours. Besides being friends and super-nice people, they gave out large boxes of Cracker Jack to the neighborhood kids. (And keep in mind this was in the era of good Cracker Jack prizes.) We also had a number of houses that gave out full-size candy bars and other treats that made our little hearts warm when offered in lieu of “tricks.”

In contrast, my heart always sank when I would hold out my bag and watch as some off-brand chocolate (sure to be chalky), Halloween-themed gummy things (sure to be flavorless), or hard pink gum pellets (sure to glue your mouth shut) fell in.

It’s a safe bet which houses were remembered and put on the mental “must visit” list for next year, and which treats languished in the bottom of the bag until all the good stuff had been consumed.

For better or worse, our parishes are in a similar position to those Halloween stops of my youth. Some have much to offer those who cross their thresholds: a welcoming community, well-celebrated liturgies, opportunities for outreach and education, and beautiful church buildings. Others — too many, if surveys and statistics are accurate — offer the ecclesial version of waxy chocolate bars and stale bubble gum.

Is it any wonder that so many people leave our parishes on Sunday morning without spiritual fervor when we offer them cheap treats? The crisis of evangelization in the Church will not be fixed by bland, flavor-less programs or communities that seek to preserve “our way of doing things” at all costs. The New Evangelization begins with quality outreach designed to serve the local community.

A big box of Cracker Jack or a limp purple lollipop. Which type of parish do you think seekers will come back to again and again in their search for meaning and a spiritual home?

Photo Credit: .robbie via Compfight cc

17 Insights from FDLC (in Tweet Form)

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Last week I attended the 2014 National Meeting of the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC). I’m not a liturgist (and don’t even play one on TV) but I was invited by our diocesan director for worship and the catechumenate to participate in a consultation process with the US Bishop’s Committee on Divine Worship regarding edits to the National Statues on the RCIA.

(With a new translation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults on the horizon, this is an opportune time to reevaluate the national statues in light of our pastoral experience since implementing the RCIA in America.)

In addition to the consultation process we heard from a variety of voices, most notably from the staff of the USCCB Secretariat of Divine Worship; a report on a recent survey by CARA about the RCIA in parishes; pastoral and theological reflections by Fr. Ron Lewinski and Fr. Paul Turner; and Parish Day presentations by Jim Schellman and D. Todd Williamson. Here are some of my takeaways that I tweeted from the meeting.