An apprentice is a novice student who learns under the tutelage of a master of an art or craft such as painting, carpentry, or baking. The novice works closely with the master over long periods of time to learn the techniques, skills, and knowledge needed to become a craftsman. In medieval times the novice might even live with the master in order to soak in his lifestyle and daily routine.
Like medieval craftsmen, catechists are called to be formed in their craft. But instead of buildings, bread, or paintings, catechists are crafting disciples of Jesus Christ! Even so, the Church recognizes the links between faith formation and an apprenticeship model.
In the fall of 2011 our diocesan Office for Catechesis, in cooperation with our Office for Worship and the Catechumenate, sponsored a series of regional workshops helping Catholic school teachers and parish catechists to understand the (then) upcoming implementation of the Roman Missal, Third Edition; examine the changes in the English translation; and prepare the faithful to embrace these changes through their catechetical programs.
We knew that this would be a challenging workshop, due both to the inherent pain and grieving many people experience when their mode of worship is altered, and a history of poor reception of such large, regional workshops. With those considerations in mind we made a conscious effort to change our approach from past workshops.
We dumped the single-speaker approach. In the past we’ve hired individual presenters to lead our regional catechist workshops. This year, because we increased the number of workshops and spread them out over the course of six weeks, hiring a single presenter from outside the diocese didn’t make logistical sense. Instead, the members of the sponsoring offices took responsibility for pieces of the workshop. As a result participants heard from five different people over the course of the session.
We kept things moving. At three hours long the workshop could have dragged on for participants. Instead, as we broke down the agenda for the workshop, we intentionally kept the individual sections short and to the point. No individual section was longer than 30 minutes and some were as short as five minutes long. Combined with the multiple speakers, participants were always being presented with something new to hold their interest.
We utilized interactivity and multimedia. To help participants come together as a group we began the workshop with a 15-minute Liturgy of the Word. We also had a reflect/pair/share exercise early in the session and presenters asked feedback questions throughout the workshop. In addition, besides using traditional PowerPoint slides, we played short clips from ICEL’s Become One Body, One Spirit in Christ DVD in between major agenda items to either highlight ideas from the preceding presenter or to set up the next one. These short clips gave participants an opportunity to stand and stretch or just œreset before the next part of the workshop.
We eliminated technological variables. As we went around our diocese we brought our own laptops and projector. Even more importantly we invested in a portable PA system that allowed us to forgo using unreliable and outdated sound systems in the parishes. This ensured that, regardless of the setting or size of the room, participants would always be able to hear the presenters clearly.
We gave them resources to use. In the past the biggest criticism of our formation workshops was a lack of resources to œtake back to the classroom. This was especially true of school teachers, but parish catechists also expressed a desire to have relevant materials that they could take back and use in their programs. Because we didn’t hire a presenter, our budget allowed us to purchase booklets and other materials to give to catechists to take back with them. These were handed out in folders by grade level (K-6 or 7-12).
Implementing these changes meant working outside our established patterns, but in the end it made for a more effective and engaging catechist formation experience. Our future workshops will build on and refine this model.
The ancient muses, it was thought, helped create works of art and literature. But the God in whom I believe is about creating certain kinds of people, shaping them into men and women who believe, hope, and love. While I do think God cares about the works we create, I believe that God is more interested in the process and its effect upon us. God is in the dying – the struggle and the wounds and the agony, just as much as he is in the rising – the gleaming product at the end. Out of the chaos of the writing life, God is forming us to be people who are humbled, disciplined, persevering, surprised, grateful. And if, through the writing process, we allow ourselves to be shaped into new kinds of people, then perhaps writers will come to be known for more than just being crazy.