Growing in the faith isn't just kids' stuff. In fact, the Church has long recognized a strong need for adult faith formation of Catholics. As the Congregation for the Clergy's General Catechetical Directory points out, adult catechesis is "the axis around which revolves the catechesis of childhood and adolescence as well as that of old age" (No. 275). Our Sunday Visitor intern Sarah Lang recently spoke with four catechists about this vital ministry.
Planning events doubles the value
Felicity Furber considers her position as a co-chair of the Adult Faith Formation Program at St. Edward's Parish in Bloomington, Minn., a "double plus."
"I'm in the very fortunate position to both select and attend the programs," she said. "I absolutely love it."
A part of the committee for the past 10 years, she calls the program, which puts on events such as Scripture lessons, book discussions and studies on other religions, "radically important" and "one of the most important in the Church." And she wishes other churches would see the value in it as well.
"Every time I travel to another church, I always pick up a bulletin," she said. "Very, very, very rarely do they have adult faith formation. And I've never seen anything as prevalent as ours is."
And prevalent is a good word for it. Furber said from the fall season all the way through Easter there is something new about the AFF program in the bulletin every week, with "incredible attendance" at the events.
The goal? To educate adults, which Furber said is "the most important thing you can do in a church."
Whether the participants are discussing the latest social-justice article in Time magazine or working their way through the Buddhist faith, one thing is for sure: They're growing.
"The spiritual maturity of adults really stopped at confirmation or religious education," Furber told Our Sunday Visitor. "Beyond that, there was nothing. And in every other aspect of life, they continue to grow. There's nothing wrong with that, but there's so much to learn and absorb. Until the time I became involved, I had no in-depth knowledge of Scripture. We're just trying to develop that child faith into adult faith."
Staying on top of a growing trend
Perhaps the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops said it best in "Their Hearts Were Burning within Them": "The Church wisely and repeatedly insists that adult faith formation is 'essential to who we are and what we do as Church' and must be 'situated not at the periphery of the Church's education mission, but at is center.'"
But Patricia Lieb doesn't do a bad job herself, stating that adult faith formation is "absolutely critical."
As the "grandmother of adult faith formation in Minnesota," says Heidi Busse, editor of Our Sunday Visitor's Take Out periodical, Lieb helped develop the adult faith formation committee at St. Edward's in Bloomington, Minn., about 15 years ago, serving as director for that time (now two years retired), before promoting AFF in other Minnesota dioceses.
"I believe we constantly need to deepen and grow in our understanding of faith lifelong," Lieb said. "As life goes on, Scripture takes on new connections. It constantly presents new situations and ideas."
And she thinks the AFF committee at St. Edward's has been "a great benefit."
"I really believe strongly that adult lay Catholics need to be part of the process of developing an AFF program," she said. "Then it has parish ownership, and it utilizes the insights of the local parishioners."
Though Lieb says AFF programs are a growing trend in the country, the one at St. Edward's is uncommon.
"The degree to which it has been developed is uncommon," she said. "We had strong pastor support, professional, hired help and commitment of the committee. It's not possible in every parish."
But, as she says, she is "without a doubt" happy that it was at St. Edward's.
Help for parents in passing on the faith
Jim Fisher can see there's a real desire for the programs he's involved with as co-chair of Adult Faith Formation Committee at St. Edward's in Bloomington, Minn.
"What we put on," he said, "there's a certain hunger for it."
The committee puts on a number of programs, open to adults from other parishes or even churches, such as studies on biblical themes or the sacraments, conversations on articles of current events or discussions to understand another religion. Sometimes, Fisher said, they will have a Jewish rabbi or an Islamic imam come to speak.
The goal? They want to put on spiritually rewarding programs for adults. And a bonus is that it helps parents more fully educate their children to the faith.
"From what I've read recently," Fisher said, "perhaps we need to [focus on adults] even more."
But after every event, Fisher and the group give out questionnaires. And they get almost all positive remarks.
"It's generally overwhelmingly positive," he said, "to the point where I just have to roll my eyes and say, 'come on!'"
No excuses not to learn faith
Though Cindy Black is the director of youth ministry for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., she's also had her hands in adult faith formation, something she believes is as important as youth ministry.
"An important part of youth ministry is forming adult ministers," Black told Our Sunday Visitor. "My big role is forming adults first of all in their faith in order that they can lead others in their faith."
She has helped with a "core team" of adults, ranging in age from second-year college students to adults in their 50s who are not parents, who commit to a year of service to the youth ministry program. And when coming up with lessons or things to discuss with the teens, they would have to do research on each individual topic themselves.
"We were all very much in the same boat," Black said. "We weren't very formed in our faith, not very catechized at all."
But as she and the other 14-20 adults researched topics together to teach teens, it turned into "a beautiful time for us of learning and growing," Black said.
Two things that have personally helped her grow in her faith are talking one-on-one with her parish priest and reading Church documents. Her talks with her priest have been a "very open venue to ask questions," she said, and she's learned a lot from the Church documents, even though she thought she wouldn't be able to without a theology background.
There are also programs in her own diocese to aid in adult faith formation. The Office of Catechesis has an education for ministry program for lay adults to become better formed in their faith.
Her parish, St. Vincent de Paul, runs a program called "Catholicism revealed" that meets one night a month. They cover many topics, such as marriage and annulments, Mary and the saints and miracles, with "very engaging speakers that bring the subject to life," Black said, bringing attendance from 200 to 500 adults.
"People really are hungry to know why we believe what we do," Black said. "Our faith is so amazing."
And because of all the resources, Catholic writers, publishing companies and books on every subject, she said "there's no excuse for us not to know the faith and be able to learn."