Catechesis When We Cannot Gather

What a difference two weeks make.

Two Sundays ago we were celebrating the Rite of Election and Call to Continuing Conversion with the Elect and candidates of the diocese. Today public Masses and catechetical programs are canceled, many of us are working from home, and we are all adjusting to a “new normal.”

With so much on people’s plates it may be tempting to wait to engage in catechesis. Where do we even begin?! But there are some simple things you can do to keep the catechetical process going.

  1. Focus on the faith, not programs. The plans and goals that we set for ourselves this year no longer apply. We are literally in extraordinary circumstances. So don’t worry about making sure kids “get through the textbook” this year. Instead, focus on helping them pray, grow in their relationship with Jesus, and find ways to practice the faith off parish grounds. See this time as an opportunity to help the faithful discover new ways of praying and being Church, even as we mourn not being able to gather for liturgy and fellowship.
  2. Keep in contact. Right now people want to know that the Church remembers and cares for them. Next week, call — don’t email — every family enrolled in your program. If you have a large program, enlist some lead catechists to assist you. Let families know you are concerned for them and praying for them. Find out if they have any particular needs or prayer requests, and try to connect them with services that can help. As we continue to practice social distancing, check-in regularly with families.
  3. Share home-based catechetical materials parents can use with their children. This is an excellent time to help families develop their Domestic Church and assist parents as the primary formators of their children. Our diocese’s Office of Catechesis is maintaining a list of materials, videos, and other resources families can use together. Email 2-3 suggestions to your families each week to keep them engaged and to offer new ways to keep their children practicing the faith.
  4. See what resources your textbook publisher is offering. Many of the major catechetical publishers are offering free resources and materials to help parents during this time. Check your textbook’s website or email your sales representative to see what you have access to.

Above all else, pray for our civic and Church leaders, that they may have the grace, perseverance, and wisdom they need in these times. And be assured that you and all catechetical leaders are in my prayers.

10 Steps to Managing Communications in a Crisis

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.