Thursday, July 3, 2008

Family Formation: Keeping Our Promise


I remember vividly the moment when Father Steve asked Brendan and me to state our intentions to one another. “Will you accept children lovingly from God, and bring them up according to the law of Christ and His Church?” Just then, the microphone Father was using made a blaring “screeeech!” He continued, “even when they scream like this thing just did?” I don’t think his improvisational words were meant to scare us from our commitment, but it gave those gathered to celebrate quite a good laugh. Brendan and I promptly answered “we will.”

One week after our first anniversary, we brought Clara Mary to that same place to receive the Sacrament of Baptism; we again promised to teach her the Faith and help her to live according to her Baptismal call. We have since presented three other children in these seven years for the same purpose.

For us, the commitment we made to one another, to our Lord, and to our children is not one we take lightly, but it isn’t one that necessarily comes easily. As products of a generation that wasn’t well-formed in the Faith, in many ways, we found ourselves taking what we were brought up to know and seeking more. And we wanted to surround ourselves with other families who were also seeking solid formation for themselves and for their children. That is when we found ourselves at the Church of Saint Paul in Ham Lake, Minnesota.

We knew that the parish had a reputation for its commitment to forming its parishioners in the Faith, and for its unwavering faithfulness and obedience to the Magisterium. And it wasn’t long after our membership began that we found ourselves in what seemed like a whirlwind of opportunities through a ministry called Family Formation.

Family Formation, a ministry developed at the Church of Saint Paul for Kindergarten through sixth grade, is driven by the principle that parents are the primary educators of their children in the Faith. Unlike the familiar CCD model where parents drop off their children on a weekly basis to “let the church do their work,” the majority of formation happens within the home. Families are given Home Lessons to complete together. The entire family focuses on the same topic and children are given age-appropriate materials including games, crafts, or other projects. The cover page of each lesson is written especially to equip parents to understand the material and to teach it to their children. There is also in each lesson a section entitled, “Hey, Dad!” meant to inspire fathers to take an important role in the process.

In addition to the participation in Home Lessons, the entire family gathers at the church on a monthly basis. Children meet in classrooms with other children their age to focus on a subject led by a volunteer catechist. Parents gather together to hear a speaker share on the same theme. Often at the end of the monthly session, the children will re-join their parents for a special prayer such as the Stations of the Cross. (Pre-school children, or Little Lambs, are also given Home Lessons with the same focus as the older children. They join with other kids monthly during Mass for Sunday Celebration. This format allows them to learn to participate fully with the community during Mass, but also gives them additional opportunities for growth in formation.)

We have found that Family Formation:
  • Brings the Faith alive through dynamic lessons, activities, and audio CD’s
  • Follows the three-year liturgical cycle and points families to what is happening in the Church year. Click here to see complete 3 year topic overview.
  • Is driven by Sacred Scripture
  • Is faithful to the teaching of the Magisterium
  • References the Catechism of the Catholic Church
  • Received the Imprimatur of Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis in 2007
Our family has been eternally blessed (I mean that literally!) by this process of formation. We have especially benefited from the materials provided during the Advent and Lenten seasons. One of our favorite supplemental materials is the “Priest Paper Doll” which is a cut-out of our Pastor, Father John, complete with vestments that can be “worn” during the appropriate Liturgical Season.

I have been personally blessed as a member of the Family Formation Core Team which spends one hour per month in prayer together for the ministry of Family Formation. All lessons have been personally authored, edited, illustrated, and collated by members of the Church of Saint Paul and the ministry has grown to include parishes and families across the United States and Canada.

The Family Formation website is now up and running! Visit to read more about the history of Family Formation, to read inspiring testimonies from other families and parishes who have been blessed by this ministry, and to view the available materials.


Sarah said...

I love it how people give such darling names to the preschool class, like "Little Lambs" or "Cubbies" or some such.
This is purely a ploy to get volunteers (who don't currently have preschoolers) to want to work with this age group!
How about "The Rowdies" or "The Messies" or "The Screamers?" or the "Mostly Naughty/Sometimes Nice".
See, it just looses all appeal right there. Who would teach a class named that?

Molly Koop said...

I totally agree! :) And I fully admit that I avoid volunteering with the pre-school group as much as possible! While I do love this age group, I'm also out-numbered by children of this age group on a daily basis! I always turn in my kids to the happy ladies at Sunday Celebration with a big sigh of relief!

Jenny Clarke said...

I hear you! My oldest of 5 is 7, yet I always volunteer to teach 4th grade or up and PLEASE don't put me in the nursery! I just need a little break from the wee ones! I guess God works it out though because it always amazes me how many people volunteer to teach my little monkeys!

Isaac Schwoch said...

Do you know which other parishes in the archdiocese use this? This looks amazing!

Brendan Koop said...

The Church of St. Paul uses it, and there are churchs across the US and Canada that use it as well. I believe there are other churches in the metro area that use it (not many), but you'd have to ask Molly to find out.

Individual families can use it no matter what parish they are at, and I know there are a number of individual families that choose to do this if they don't like what their parish offers.