By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
“Where do you experience God?” Sister Janet Schaeffler, OP, asked participants in her webinar on adult faith formation March 24.
Participants most often cited family. Others said they experience God in nature, the Eucharist, adoration, service projects, liturgy and prayer.
No one mentioned lectures or speakers. “I’m not saying we can’t find God in those,” Sister Schaeffler said. “It’s one way. But, there are lots of others.” Faith formation leaders should keep this in mind as they plan programming, she said.
Sister Schaeffler is an author, professor, adult faith formation consultant and publisher of a monthly newsletter on adult faith formation best practices. During the webinar, Designing Adult Faith Formation for the Post-Pandemic World, she shared approaches and strategies that parishes can use to enhance their ministry to adults. The webinar is part of the diocesan Office of Faith Formation’s ongoing series, Catholic Faith Formation in a Post-Pandemic World.
Faith formation must move from a “one-way communication” model to one that equips people to practice the faith outside the classroom, Sister Schaeffler said. Even if an activity is a lecture or presentation, other activities can be implemented.
She addressed the topic of online learning; prior to the pandemic, “many people weren’t convinced it was viable or necessary. As we know, COVID changed that.” Older adults are now more tech-savvy than ever before, she observes. Still, technology can be challenging to navigate; one faith formation leader said her “older” parish struggled to adapt to online-only formats. Sister Schaeffler observes that older adults are frustrated most often by a lack of detailed instructions and a fear of breaking devices. She suggested parishes try hosting events where younger and tech-savvy parishioners can help older parishioners learn to feel more comfortable with their devices.
Faith formation leaders in the webinar said parishioners of all ages have been excited to resume in-person activities and prefer in-person or hybrid options. Later in the webinar, Sister Schaeffler asked the participants to consider the subgroups within the adult population and develop programming that addresses their unique needs and challenges. These subgroups include young adults, midlife adults and mature adults.
“One size doesn’t fit all. … parents of young children need something different than empty nesters, people who are new in the faith need something different” than those who have been practicing the faith for many years. Stephanie Zeising said her parish, St. Patrick in Iowa City, has been hosting monthly potlucks for parishioners ages 50 and older for several years. “People really look forward to it.”
Sister Schaeffler suggested parishes also consider offering men’s and women’s events; she observes that men’s or women’s Bible studies tend to garner more excitement than parish-wide Bible studies. For all-parish programming, themes can encourage creativity and get people excited. For example, a parish could host a variety of events related to the saints. Invite people to volunteer in some way and they will be more likely to participate, she said.
Sister Schaeffler said she is convinced that adult faith formation and programming are needed more than ever. “As people are coming back (post-pandemic), they are searching for more than just liturgy.”
“Catholic Faith Formation in a Post-Pandemic World” will continue April 7 with a webinar on adolescent faith formation. The series will conclude with an in-person workshop on April 28 at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City.
Individuals and parish groups may sign up at https://www.davenportdiocese.org/cff-series. Interested persons who missed the first workshop and webinars but would like access to the recordings can do so by registering for the entire series at the link above.