Canned Programs and the Person of the Catechist

Recently the members of our department have been looking at and reviewing some of the new Confirmation programs that have been making the rounds. (We’ll be publishing some general thoughts and recommendations in the coming months; I’ll be sure to share them here on my blog.)

One trend I’ve noticed is that all the programs we’ve looked at try to be “turn key” programs – that is, they are designed to be easy to use with little need to prep or input on the part of the facilitator. Through video presentations and guided discussion booklets, there seems to be little for the catechist to do.

On the one hand this may seem a feature. In today’s busy, fast-paced world, having a program that doesn’t require a lot of time and investment can be helpful, especially for a parish that doesn’t have a lot of trained catechists.

On the other hand, the Church’s teaching is clear that no program, video, or book is able to catechize on its own. The General Directory for Catechesis reminds us that

No methodology, no matter how well tested, can dispense with the person of the catechist in every phase of the catechetical process. The charism given to him by the Spirit, a solid spirituality and transparent witness of life, constitutes the soul of every method. Only his own human and Christian qualities guarantee a good use of texts and other work instruments.

In other words, evangelization and catechesis are primarily human endeavors. They require the cultivation of relationships, not the bright glare of an LCD machine; patience and discernment, not a “one-size-fits-all” approach; and above all the demonstration of a lived relationship with Jesus Christ, not fancy graphics and music.

That’s not to discount the usefulness of programs, videos and books. But it is to remind us that the most important factor in a young person’s faith formation is the people around them who will demonstrate the importance of faith and invite the young person to enter more deeply into that faith. The former are important, yes; but the latter are indispensable.

Crowdsourcing Catechesis

Shortly after the NCCL conference last month I sent out the following tweet:

This prompted a nice exchange with a few people about whether a crowdsourced project would be eligible for the USCCB’s Conformity Review process. Scanning through the conformity resources available on the USCCB web site, I don’t see anything that would disqualify such a a project from the review process.

But what would a crowdsourced catechetical project look like? How would it be accomplished?

What is Crowdsourcing?

Crowdsourcing is a process by which individual tasks in a larger project are divided between many participants. Individuals do small pieces of the whole so that a large project can be accomplished with a little effort on the part of lots of people.

Wikipedia is the best example of a crowdcoursed project. No individual could have written all the content contained in Wikipedia. But by allowing lots of individuals to contribute their expertise to the project, Wikipedia was able to collect and organize vast quantities of information in a relatively short amount of time — while remaining nearly as accurate as more traditional encyclopedias.

What About Catechesis?

So to go back to the original question: what would a crowdsourced catechetical project look like?

Leaving aside the question of an entire catechetical program or textbook series (which I think is possible), publishers could crowdsource supplemental materials — such as parental guides or extra activities — for a specific curriculum. A simple wiki-style web site could be set up and login credentials given to catechists, DREs, or teachers who are using the publisher’s materials. They could then collaborate by

  • identifying — based on their experiences using the curriculum — what supplemental materials are needed;
  • outlining the scope of the individual supplements;
  • writing the text of the supplements themselves, which could then be formatted by the publisher and posted to their web site as free PDF downloads.

With an editor assigned to oversee and guide the process by acting as a facilitator, a publisher could effectively outsource the creation of simple supplements without a huge investment in time or resources.

So are there any publishers out there willing to tackle such a project? I don’t know. But I’ll be keeping an eye out!

Photo by James Cridland/FlickrCC