“The wood of the cross has brought joy to the world.”

Gustave Doré's 'Le Calvaire'

See, my servant shall prosper,
he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.
Even as many were amazed at him–
so marred was his look beyond that of man,
and his appearance beyond that of mortals–
So shall he startle many nations,
because of him kings shall stand speechless;
For those who have not been told shall see,
those who have not heard shall ponder it.

- Isaiah 52:13-15

10 Steps to Managing Communications in a Crisis

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Last week, at our diocese’s annual Principals’ Leadership Conference, Kathie Sass, our soon-to-be-retired diocesan spokesperson, gave a wonderful presentation on the 10 steps leaders should take to anticipate and react to crises in their ministries. The talk was based on the work of Jonathan Bernstein.

First, Kathie outlined the steps organizations should take before a crisis to ensure they are ready should a crisis occur:

  1. Anticipate crises and put written policies in place on how to avoid and deal with specific types of crises.
  2. Identify a crisis communications team. The team should include whoever is the head of the organization, legal council, and someone on staff with expertise in the crisis area.
  3. Appoint an official spokesperson. You don’t want media calling teachers, parents, etc. Appoint someone who is well-spoken, not just the person in charge.
  4. Train your spokesperson!
  5. Establish notification and monitoring systems. This includes both old media (television, radio, and newspapers) as well as new media (text messages, Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.).
  6. Identify and know your stakeholders. Communicate with them and let them know who to refer media inquiries to.
  7. Develop holding statements. Don’t say “No comment”; at the very least express sympathy, offer prayers, and say that a statement will come later. Crisis communications team should review these holding statements regularly to ensure that they are well crafted, easily understood, and truthful!

Kathie then gave guidance on how to respond should a crisis occur:

  1. At the outset of a crisis, assess the situation. Make sure you know the specifics before acting or making a statement. Reacting before you have all the information can result in bad decisions or hasty statements that must later be retracted. (This is where those holding statements come in handy!)
  2. Finalize and adapt your key messages; continue to communicate these messages to your key stakeholders. Don’t automatically act on a lawyer’s advice to say nothing! Transparency can mitigate bad feelings and avoid the appearance of a cover up.
  3. Do a post-crisis analysis. Detail what you did well, what you failed to anticipate, and how you could improve. Update your policies and procedures as needed.

All of us hope that we can avoid crises in our ministries, but the past few decades have shown that we all need to be prepared to act should the unthinkable happen.

An Invitation to the 2014 NCCL Tweet-Up

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For the fourth year in a row we will be hosting a Catholic TweetUp as part of the annual National Conference for Catechetical Leadership convention!

This year’s TweetUp will be held on Tuesday, May 20, at the Grand Bar in the Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis. We’ll gather around 9p after the Sadlier event dinner.

The TweetUp is not restricted to conference attendees; all Catholic social media users are welcome for an opportunity to meet with other bloggers and Twitter users, network with fellow Catholics, discuss how we use social media to share the Gospel, or to just enjoy a cold drink at the end of the day!

The hotel is located at 800 Washington Avenue in downtown St. Louis. If you’re local, consider taking the MetroLink — the hotel is two blocks north of the Convention Center station!

If you plan to attend, please RSVP via this Google form so we can make sure we reserve enough tables:

We look forward to seeing you at the TweetUp!

Photo by Zawezome/FlickrCC

Win an Exclusive Copy of Pope Francis’ First Book

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My friends at Loyola Press are preparing for the release of Pope Francis first book, The Church of Mercy, with an opportunity to win a free copy before the book is officially released on April 20th .

Simply answer the following questions that will be posted each day this week on Loyola Press’s Facebook page, Ignatian Spirituality’s Facebook page, and Twitter. Be sure to include the tag #ChurchofMercy in your response.

Loyola Press will select three winners at random from all qualified entries each day—extra points awarded to contestants who submit visual answers!

The questions to answer each day are:

  • Monday: What do you love about Pope Francis?
  • Tuesday: When have you experienced a moment of mercy in your life?
  • Wednesday: Why do you want to read this book?
  • Thursday: How have you been inspired by Pope Francis?
  • Friday: Inspired by Pope Francis’s example, how will you be merciful to those in your life?

The contest begins at 8 a.m. CST on Monday, April 7th, and ends at 5 p.m. CST on April 11th. Entries are limited to those in North America.

Good luck!

Reader Survey Results

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A couple weeks ago I sent out a survey to the readers of this blog to get a sense of who is out there and what topics they find most interesting and helpful. In the interest of full disclosure I thought I would share some of the results of that survey.

Primary Catechetical Role

Role
% of Respondents
(Arch)Diocesan Catechetical Leader41.6%
Catechist25%
Parish Catechetical Leader9.0%
Consultant9.0%
Evangelization Trainer9.0%

How You Follow the Blog

Method
% of Respondents
Email Newsletter45.5%
Facebook27.3%
Twitter18.2%
RSS Feed18.2%
Checking the Site18.2%
Other9.0%

Favorite Topics

Topic
% of Respondents
Using Tech in Catechesis72.7%
Catechetical Resources63.6%
Leadership Tips54.5%
Catechetical Reflections45.5%
Book Reviews36.4%
Evangelizing Catechesis18.2%
Guest Posts18.2%
Reflections on Church Documents9.0%
Video Posts9.0%

Requested Topics

Topic
% of Respondents
Leadership Tips45.5%
Using Tech in Catechesis45.5%
Catechetical Reflections27.2%
Book Reviews18.2%
Catechetical Resources18.2%
Reflections on Church Documents18.2%
Video Posts9.0%
Evangelization9.0%
Guest Posts0%

Social Media Use

Service
% of Respondents
Facebook100%
LinkedIn72.7%
Google+54.5%
Twitter54.5%
Pinterest36.3%
Instagram9.0%

I also asked respondents what other catechetical blogs or podcasts they follow; responses included

Thanks to everyone who took the time to answers these questions! If you haven’t already, the survey is still open and will remain so for a few more days. Feel free to contribute your thoughts!

Who Will Reap the Seeds You Sow?

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Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” – Matthew 9:35-38

In catechesis we often say that we sow seeds that may not bear fruit for many years — long after the young people in our programs have passed from the parish or school. And this is true. We don’t know what value a kind word or lesson may have or what fruit it may bear in the future.

But too often I think we fail to recognize that, even if we don’t reap those seeds, someone will. At some point someone will have to help guide those young people into a deep, mature, intentional faith in Jesus Christ. But are we training people to reap that harvest?

I don’t see a lot of evidence that we are. I see a lot of catechetical training emphasizing the sowing of seeds, but not so many giving practical skills and resources for walking with people — once they’ve heard the kerygma proclaimed — into a fully lived Christian faith.

The business world has long known this. Handing off work is one of the major points of inefficiency in production and services. When I worked in Catholic healthcare there was a major effort to make sure that patients were only transported for a procedure in another department when that department was ready. If you transport the patient and no one is there to receive them, it results in frustration for everyone.

If the workers are few — so few that there are not enough to gather what has been sown — is it any surprise that the fruit turns bad, rotting in the fields? Perhaps we need to think of two types of catechists necessary for the flourishing of the Christian community: the sowers and the harvesters. Perhaps we need to be intentional about how we put each type to work in our programs. And maybe we need to give each some specialized training so that, once called, they can perform their ministry appropriately.

How can we ensure that the workers will be there when it is time for the harvest? How are you planning for and supporting the workers?

3 Starting Points for Encouraging Non-Practicing Catholic Families

5139215570_fa0b898570_bMy friend Marc has a challenging post up about what we are teaching Catholic families about who and what they are. After reading through the questions posed for the Extraordinary Synod on the The Pastoral Challenges of the Family in the Context of Evangelization — and its assumptions about the faithful’s familiarity with documents such as Gaudium et Spes and Familiaris Consortio – Marc muses

Is the Vatican so out of touch with the faithful? These are very intellectual questions that assume a lot of knowledge. Do they really think most Catholics read and understand these documents and terms?

But the other thing I thought was–should I have been teaching them this stuff? I’ve never even considered having a class for families on who and what they’re supposed to be. Parents would never come.

But if we don’t somehow teach them, how will they know? How will families understand themselves and what they’re called to be?

I’ve been wondering something similar for some time, although I also wonder if we’re teaching families what they should be doing to practice the faith at home. So many Catholic parents don’t even seem to be doing the basics anymore. And if they aren’t going to Mass on Sunday or praying before meals, do we really expect them to be sharing their faith in any meaningful way with their children?

(I could probably insert a whole sidebar here on the implications of Forming Intentional Disciples; suffice to say that it’s clear most Catholic parents wouldn’t meet Sherry’s criteria for intentional discipleship.)

I don’t think the answer is to hand out copies of Familiaris Consortio to every Catholic family and expect them to read it. So where do we start?

  1. Talk about the domestic Church. We need to remind parents that their families are a microcosm of the universal Church. Just as we gather together in parish communities to celebrate our faith, serve one another, and give thanks to God, so too are families called to do the same. This isn’t an “add-on” or something we do when we have extra time, but an integral part of what it means to be family in a Catholic context. Reminding families who they are — and using the language of the domestic Church — is one way to get them thinking about and moving towards this reality.
  2. Encourage greater Mass attendance. By that I don’t mean haranguing parents to be at Mass every Sunday. Rather, we should encourage them to take small steps towards greater participation. For a family that only attends at Easter and Christmas, maybe that means going once per month. For a family that participants more frequently, moving towards regular weekly attendance. And for families that are already attending every week, encouraging adding a daily Mass every week. The point is small improvements that can build on each other, not going immediately from 0 to 60.
  3. Reinforce family meal time and prayer. We’ve all seen the statistics that show how regular family meal times leads to better grades, a reduced likelihood of drug and gang involvement, and better mental and physical health. So why do so few families practice a daily shared meal? This simple step can help re-prioritize a family’s activities, help make connections to the Eucharist, and expand their faith lives through shared prayer and conversation. Activities such as The Meal Box (which my kids love) are a great tool to facilitate this interaction.

How do you think we can reach Catholics families and help them pass on the faith to their children?

Photo Credit: More Good Foundation via Compfight cc

7 Ways to Get More Out of a Catechetical Conference

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As I mentioned on Twitter the other day my conference season is just around the corner. This year I’m attending both the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA) and National Conference for Catechetical Leadership (NCCL) conventions. After five years I think I’m finally getting the hang of attending a conference and getting the most out of it; here are a few tips if you’ll be attending these or one of the other fine conferences coming up!

  1. Pack light… Don’t try to take everything and the kitchen sink, especially if you’re flying. Take the bare necessities. This will both lighten your load and make it easier to spend several days on your feet. I was able to attend my first NCCL conference — five days — with just a back pack. (The secret: rolling your clothes.)
  2. …and leave room for goodies. The downside of that first NCCL conference was that I didn’t have any room for the free books, materials, and assorted goodies I got from various publishers and vendors. Fortunately my associate director drove to the conference, so I was able to give them to her to take back to Illinois. If not for her I might have had to explain to my wife why I left some shirts and pants behind.
  3. Make the most of your time between sessions. Don’t get me wrong: I love attending breakout sessions, whether to hear a new speaker or find out how other dioceses are approaching particular challenges. But the real value of a conference is the connections made with other people. Don’t be afraid to approach a speaker or other attendee and engage with them; they are great resources that can be tapped after the conference is over! (Three years ago I even created an “audio postcard” by recording interviews with attendees at NCCL!)
  4. Volunteer. Conferences are always in need of people to help with registrations, plan liturgies, escort speakers, hang signage, or just act as gofers. Volunteering is a great way to network and meet other dedicated catechists.
  5. Don’t be afraid to change your mind. Did you go to a breakout speaker only to discover that the topic was vastly different from what you expected? Feel free to walk out and go to a different session. After all, your time is valuable and there is no sense in attending a session that you find uninteresting or unhelpful. Personally I operate on a five minute rule: if a breakout speaker or session hasn’t grabbed my attention within five minutes, I’ll generally try to find another to attend.
  6. Stop by the exhibitors. If the conference you’re attending has an exhibitor’s hall, make sure to walk through it at least once. Lots of publishers have demos of new programs, special rates for attendees, and other “perks” that make it worth while. Perusing their booths also helps the conference: organizers rely on exhibitors purchasing booth space to cover some of the costs of the conference, but exhibitors won’t return if attendees don’t stop by.
  7. Participate in the back channel. Twitter is one of the greatest conference attendance tools I know of. Through the use of hashtags it’s easy to find other attendees and have a conversation about what you’re seeing and hearing — even if they are sitting on the other side of a 1000-person ballroom!Even if you can’t attend a conference, following hashtags can give you a virtual convention experience. (The hashtags to follow for NCEA and NCCL are #NCEA14 and #NCCL2014, respectively.)

What advice do you have for people attending a conference this year?

“Would you like to take a survey?”

With the launch of my new site design I’d like to get to know you, my readers, a little better. To that end I’m asking you to take this short, nine-question survey. Your responses will shape my writing over the next year and help me to better meet your needs as catechists and catechetical leaders in the Church.

If the survey doesn’t show up above, you can access it here. Thank you!

Book Review: Brother Hugo and the Bear

brother_hugo_and_the_bearKaty Beebe’s Brother Hugo and the Bear is a children’s story based on an incident recounted in a letter by Peter the Venerable, abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Cluny, to the prior of La Grande Chartreuse:

And send to us, if you please, the great volume of letters by the holy father Augustine, which contains his letters to Saint Jerome, and Saint Jerome’s to him. For it happens that the greater part of our volume was eaten by a bear.

With this kernel Beebe spins a delightful tale of the young monk who must gather materials and copy the letters of Saint Augustine, all the while pursued by the bear who has acquired a taste for the scribe’s works. In addition to laughing at the impish humor of the story children will also learn a little about how monks created beautiful works of art in their illuminated manuscripts.

The artwork by S. D. Schindler is a wonderful compliment to the text, with quirky illuminations and plenty of details for children to pour over. The book also contains some short historical notes, a glossary, and notes from the author and illustrator, making this an ideal classroom book.

I heartily recommend Brother Hugo and the Bear for parents, children, teachers, and catechists.

Disclaimer: I received a free pre-publication copy of this book from LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewer program.