Catechist
Ministry

Catechist Ministry, run by the Catholic Parishes of Terrigal and Woy Woy Peninsula, teaches Catholic scripture to students in Terrigal and Erina High School and primary schools in the Woy Woy area.

Summary of Learnings

Catechist Ministry Terrigal (Secondary)

The Catechist Secondary School Ministry has been operating in the Terrigal Parish since 1990. This ministry involves teaching Catholic scripture to students in Terrigal and Erina High Schools.

Catechists teach one lesson per grade each term with the same lesson topic used for years 7-12. A team of catechists go into the classroom to teach the lessons, with some leading the lesson and others facilitating group discussions.

Each seminar has a theme, sometimes the theme is determined by liturgical season and other times responding to a perceived need of the students. The catechists in developing the material try to link the seminars throughout the year to build each seminar on the one before over the course of a year.

Each grade experiences the same seminar over the course of a term with catechists adjusting the depth of the material – this is often accomplished through the responses of students as the discussion provides the point of difference over a variety of year groups. The lessons centre on the responses of students through questions for discussion to presented material.

The seminars are aimed at “touching the hearts” of the students, looking to engage them intellectually, emotionally and spiritually. During each seminar students also have the opportunity to participate in rich prayer experiences.

Students who attend the classes generally really want to be there, this time is time for them to talk about God freely which is a rare opportunity. Often the students ask challenging questions.

In the words of Betty Brown (secondary CCD Co-ordinator for the parish) “the students have never asked a question that we can’t answer as a team, we are holy but not pius and we don’t expect more from the students than what they are – they are teenagers.

When the students arrive we welcome everyone, they are all treated equally, we start by talking about the things that we have in common and ultimately our belonging to the same faith community”.

Betty says of her team “as catechists we truly feel that the message we have to share is so important. In order to be effective the seminar has to be ours, we really have to put ourselves into it. We have to connect with the material – and it has to be authentic”.

Betty says of teaching “we love what we do - that’s why we keep going, we are convinced! We wouldn’t keep teaching if we didn’t think that we were being effective; people wouldn’t stay in the ministry over so many years if we weren’t making a difference”.

As a team there are some elements that they have discovered help to connect with young people, these are:

  • A sense of humour
  • A deep faith that you want to share
  • A desire to teach and not to tell
  • To ask them
  • To engage them in discussion
  • To be tolerant
  • To be prepared to laugh at ourselves when things don’t work
     

 

Through their seminars the team hopes that overall they can bring young people to a knowledge that God is with them, in them and that God can be relied upon. They hope that what they have shared with their students may come to the fore when they most need it, maybe years later when they are married and have children.

As Betty describes “You can see by the look on the student's face when you are reaching them, we try to make a point of really looking at people. We try to connect and you can tell when the kids are really engaged”.

Woy Woy Catechists (Primary)

Although the catechist ministry is largely conducted individually with a scripture teacher going alone or with a single helper into the classroom to work with students, the sense of teamwork amongst the catechists at Woy Woy Parish is something that is a priority for their ministry and one of the keys to their longevity and success.

 

In the words of Catechist Co-ordinator Susan Simmons “people in our team respect and help each other. We are a group of men and women with an attitude of “we can do it”. If there’s something to be accomplished this is our approach – then we find a way to achieve it together!”

Another catechist commented “When you come into this team you know that you are going to be accepted – when you join people of faith in an activity you straight away have something in common.”

Essential to their team building is the participation in common formation programs, reflection days and social events. It is through these experiences, especially the formation programs that the group has been able to form common understanding and to ensure that they are all “on the same page.”

Keeping up to date was also noted as important and this also provides motivation to attend continuous formation and training.

This team approach is also applied to their work with other Christian Churches in the area, there is never an “us and them” mentality but a climate of respect and support which provide opportunities to be engaged in common activities.

Vital to the success of the ministry is the ongoing support of the Parish Priest, Fr John Hill and the practical support offered by the previous assistant priest Fr Barry Nobbs and the current assistant priest Fr Stephen Hume. Fr Stephen was recently invited to be “chaplain” for catechists. This role means that he attends and supports the catechists at their meetings and visits the children in State Schools.

Teaching Scripture in the context of State Schools presents a real challenge to “integrate faith and life”. At times classroom teachers can be unwelcoming or may not support the volunteer teachers in managing students or resources.

As one catechist recounted “this is the real test of your faith. I recall once a teacher that I found challenging to work with, I decided that as a woman of faith I had to reflect in my actions the lessons that I was teaching, I was going to show her the gospel message in the way that I responded”.

The catechists also saw it as part of their role to go out of their way to show appreciation to classroom teachers and to build rapport.

The students come from a wide cross section of families and from a variety of levels of engagement with their faith. For this reason one of the catechists commented “we need to be conscious of the world in which we are working – this includes the language we use and the way we express ourselves in order to be inclusive and to affirm children and their families in all their variations”.

Another catechist commented “We have to be aware that people are generally well educated and expect us to teach material to their children that is up to date and relevant, children too expect to be engaged in their learning, we can’t teach the way that we were taught at school”.

One of the catechists shared “we are at the coal face of fighting old perceptions about church and faith amongst the families of the children that we teach. We have to be conscious of leading the children and giving them hope, not pushing people away”.

The catechists made note that another challenge of the ministry was the need to learn and relearn your faith over and over again. Teaching compels you to engage with your faith in new contexts, in changing and challenging times.

When asked what motivates them to participate in this ministry, what keeps them going year after year, the catechists interviewed stated “in many ways we feel an obligation to these members of our community, we know that many of the students we teach are in state schools because they can not afford to attend a Catholic School”, another stated “we want the children to have this experience so that they know what is on offer to them.”

It was this motivation that led one catechist to invite students from one of the parish’s state schools to join the parish community for a Sunday evening mass. Information was sent home with students to their families, inviting them to Sunday Mass and over 50 children and their families attended.

Although it was a lot of effort the catechists agreed that it was worth it – to give the students and their families a chance to join the parish community in such a celebration.

Finally all catechists agreed that “we love the children, we love teaching and what keeps us going is the hope that what we teach will make a difference to their lives, maybe years after they leave school – if we give them the gift of faith it will be there when life is hard.”

As one catechist stated “the ministry can be challenging, but I don’t ever feel hopeless. It’s a wonderful feeling to know that God loves you and to have the opportunity to share that.”

In the words of the Catechists:

  • We try not to just teach information but to engage “hearts”
     
  • We honour the process of prayer and wait for the right time for students to engage most effectively
     
  • For the seminars to resonate – we need to put ourselves into it, we must connect, it needs to be authentic
     
  • We don’t expect more from people than what they are
     

 

  • Its important for us to keep up to date, to keep learning our faith over and over
     
  • Common formation experiences are key to building a team for ministry
     
  • We need to be conscious of the world in which we are working – we need to ensure that the language we use is both inclusive and affirms children and their families
     
  • It’s a wonderful feeling to know that God loves you and to share that.

Catholic Diocese of
Broken Bay

Building 2, 423 Pennant Hills Road
Pennant Hills NSW 2120

PO Box 340
Pennant Hills NSW 1715

Phone 02 9847 0000
Fax 02 9847 0001
news@dbb.org.au

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