Evangelization, adult faith formation opportunities explored



COLUMBIA — “Neither catechesis nor evangelization is possible without the action of God working through his Spirit,” is a quote from the General Directory for Catechesis, the main topic of discussion at the Evangelization and Adult Formation Conference, an event sponsored by the dioceses of the Atlanta Province to which Charleston is a member.

The truth in that quote was evident when this conference on evangelization and catechesis held March 24, just happened to coincide with the notification that the evangelization initiative, “Disciples in Mission,” proposed by the Charleston Diocese’s Office for Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation, had been approved by the diocesan presbyteral council and the bishop’s office. Paul Schroeder, director of the Office for Evangelization, Catechesis and Christian Initiation, will begin the year of preparation for this five-year Lenten initiative and the guest speaker for the conference, Joanne Chafe, provided a most productive starting point for the preparation process.

“Joanne did a tremendous job breaking open the relationship of adult formation with evangelization. Evangelization and effective adult formation continue to be ambiguous areas within the church. Joanne showed our participants the tremendous opportunities that we have in our parishes when we meet with adult groups in whatever format that takes,” said Schroeder.

Chafe, the director of the National Office of Religious Education and project specialist for the Adult Portfolio of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, sparked enthusiasm about the Congregation for the Clergy’s General Directory for Catechesis and the topics contained within the 1997-revised edition.

“When I got my directory, I threw it on the shelf and did not think twice about it. Joanne did a great job bringing its content to light, such as Scripture readings and vital information about religious education. I plan to dust off my directory and read it as soon as I get back to the office,” said Laura Grazioli Anderson, church secretary from Our Lady of Guadalupe in Newton Grove, N.C.

Chafe, also the chairperson of the International Forum on Adult Religious Education and past president of the Religious Education Association of the United States and Canada, gave a historic overview of the document followed by its basic outline. She mentioned the ways the revised edition addressed adult formation, her particular area of speciality. For instance, a major section was added addressing the topic of nonparticipating adults. There was also an underlying message that the adult formation should be central and should wrap around the instruction of children and youth because of the profound influence a parent (and catechist) has on the young.

One of the parishes in the Charleston Diocese that has taken a lead in adult formation is St. Peter Church in Columbia. Under the director of religious education, Karen Dietz, a special position has been developed for adult formation. Emily Hero, its director, has been in the post for just a year and has already initiated several special events geared for the adults. This year they had The State newspaper editorial page editor, Brad Warthen, facilitate a book review of Cardinal Joseph Bernadin’s Gift of Peace, and Dr. Eleanor Lewis, a retired professor in church history, has been conducting a Scripture study.

Chafe discussed the four major themes found in the directory: 1) catechesis in light of the church’s primary mission of evangelization, 2) passing on the content of the faith, 3) effective methodology, and 4) “organizing and resourcing” catechetical activities especially for adults.

She spent most of the morning discussing the different “soils” or stages of personal spiritual development and how recognizing the three stages described as missionary (not close or unaware of the Gospel), catechetical activity (interested in the faith) or the pastoral activity (a period of spiritual maturity and growth) can be useful in selecting the appropriate means of evangelization. “It is important to understand the soil before you attempt to plant the seeds because the wrong approach can sometimes kill your evangelization efforts,” said Chafe, who gave examples of how people should use their common sense and take a “creative pastoral approach that is respectful of the person” and “look at how God works with them.”

She relayed a story about a bishop from India who found a positive way of evangelizing his people. He said that the people come together in the evening after their meal, light lanterns, and put on dramas and sing songs about the Gospel. She continues to use his advice, “Find out what your songs and lanterns are in North America and the people will come.”

As she went through the other themes found in the directory, Chafe discussed the topic of burnout, a cultural problem that can slow down any evangelization effort, “You don’t want to be a bad advertisement for the Good News.” She suggested that volunteers and especially leadership take sabbaticals to renew their own faith and recharge. In her parish, the priest has a blessing ceremony not only for those people in a ministry but also for those stepping down. “It is not a good witness to burn out,” she said. “I have come to a discovery in my life that there are people in our community who are bored to death and have very little to do and there are other people who are nearly burned out and going crazy. I think the two need to be matched up better.”

With words of encouragement, Chafe cautioned the group that sometimes those who appear unmotivated are not being approached in the right manner. Through prayer and examining the soil of the believer, she believes a connection is possible because, “human beings are open to God by virtue of being human.”

Kathy Wolf, the director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Atlanta, was impressed with the enthusiasm she witnessed at the conference, “Catholics, especially in the south, do not see themselves as evangelizers but as faithful churchgoers, we are all commissioned to share the Gospel and be joyful in the task.”