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home : features : people of faith

9/15/2011 10:01:00 AM
Consider audience for adult faith formation

Faith formation opportunities abound for retired people looking for daytime activities, but catechists often struggle to reach working adults.

Many parishes in the Albany Diocese schedule both daytime and evening events, but obstacles to attendance seem to persist among all demographics.

"I just don't know whether people don't want to be out at night or what," commented Sister Joan Vlaun, OP, associate for faith formation at St. John the Evangelist parish in Schenectady.

Sister Joan recalls a time when educational events at the parish attracted night crowds of 20 people. Today, she offers daytime book groups, afternoon Bible studies and nighttime classes for catechumens to smaller audiences.

Her book and film discussion group meets twice on Thursdays to accommodate different schedules. At 80, Sister Joan cancels night events if they get no response, but she's also willing to make concessions: for instance, only a handful of people are signed up for the evening discussion group this season.

"They enjoy it so much," she explained. "I said to them, 'If no one else signs up, you'll come to my home.'

"Everybody's life is so busy," she continued. "You'd like to reach more people, but you're competing with so much today."

Other parish leaders said they take a "kitchen sink" approach when it comes to faith formation and fill gaps by referring people to online materials.

"You've got to try just about everything - different things for different people," said Helen Moon, pastoral associate for adult faith enrichment at Our Lady of Fatima and St. Helen's parishes in Schenectady.

Many retired adults prefer not to travel at night, she pointed out. Mrs. Moon's linked parishes offer both early- and late-afternoon prayer groups, plus evening book groups and a daytime faith group for parents with preschool-aged children. She posts Scripture commentary on the parish's website (olfatima.cc/scriptures.html).

"You can't work for the numbers" of attendees, she said. "I just see that as how Jesus did it. If it was Nicodemus at night, He dealt with him. If it was a crowd, He tried to feed them, too."

Weekend intergenerational events often attract the widest array of adults, according to several faith formation leaders.

The evangelization team at Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes plans evening events geared toward Catholics who have fallen away from the Church, but also offers storytelling days open to all ages.

"I think this is what a lot of people are looking for - to know they're not alone," said Julie Carrigan, evangelization team leader in Cohoes.

Mary Salm, pastoral associate for faith formation at Our Lady of Grace parish in Ballston Lake, said adult learning opportunities are important.

"We're handing down our faith to our families," Mrs. Salm stated. "We know we love our God [and] our God loves us, but how can we pass this along?"

She lists several print and web resources in the parish bulletin, since gas prices may keep people from coming to events. Still, an evening Scripture study group with Our Lady of Grace and its cluster parishes - St. Joseph's in Scotia and Immaculate Conception in Glenville - has attracted a following.

The year-old Adult Christian Enrichment Team at St. Madeleine Sophie parish in Schenectady holds evening book discussion groups and other events.

"We do have a lot of retired people who come to these things, but we also have a lot of working people, and we also want to attract young people," said Lorraine DeCuyper, chair of the team, which also serves St. Gabriel's parish in Rotterdam. "We need to be addressing the needs of adults.

"Faith formation doesn't end. There's a hunger out there for spiritual enrichment and learning," Mrs. DeCuyper continued. "You just have to find the right avenues for people to pursue."

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