“You can never learn too much about God.”
Joanne Fortier, catechetical leader for the Parishes of the Western Maine Lakes and Foothills, says that is why she welcomed the opportunity to participate in Echoes of Faith, a diocesan-wide program that launched in February.
I really have a thirst for God and the Holy Spirit. I am driven by it,” she says. “I want to learn how to be a better catechist or communicator or how to bring the word of God to others.”
Lynette Dobbs, a parishioner of St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Houlton, had a similar desire.
“I was attracted to the adult faith formation. I wanted to be able to express myself more clearly when talking with other people. Sometimes, finding the right words can be challenging for me,” she says.
Lynette and Joanne are among 75 people who are participating in Echoes of Faith, a learning tool being offered through the diocese’s Office of Lifelong Faith Formation (OLFF). Produced by RCL Benziger, in collaboration with the national catechetical organization In Word & Witness, the learning tool Echoes of Faith was designed with catechists in mind, but Georgette Dionne, coordinator for children & adult ministries, says the OLFF team saw more far-reaching possibilities.
“We thought why not expand it and open it up to any fully initiated Catholic to open the doors to build community on a greater scale,” she says.
Georgette says the people who have signed on to the program have many different reasons for doing so.
“Some will eventually be certified. They’re working towards certification as a catechist. Then, others are not, but they may eventually be helping in their parish, leading small groups. Others just are doing it for their internal, private spirituality, which is really important, because once you develop that, you have this desire to do more,” she says.
Members of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation say the program is a good fit for a lot of people because it is fundamental in nature yet provides opportunities for people to explore further if they wish.
“For those people who spend more time developing their faith, there are other components that they can expand upon. They can go deeper, but this is really meant to be a basic, common conversation in a way that invites your whole person into it,” says Lori Dahlhoff, director of the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation.
Echoes of Faith is accessed online, an advantage in these pandemic times. It features 11 modules or subject areas including the Scriptures, prayer and spirituality, liturgy and the sacraments, Catholic morality, and getting started as a catechist, among others.
“Visually, there is art. There are videos. There is prayer that anyone can enter into. There is also some reading and some challenging questions that invite you appropriately to deepen your skills and your understanding,” says Lori. “It’s designed to lead people into deeper love and knowledge of Christ and the Church.”
“I think it’s a journey driven by God and the Holy Spirit. It gives you a lot of concrete stuff on how to be a better catechist, but it also helps you with your own spiritual development. It’s hard to put it into words, but I really can feel the change of the Holy Spirit within me,” says Joanne. “It just brings you to a good place. I really enjoy it.”
“I like the way it’s laid out. There are videos. There are questions. It’s not a whole lot of reading,” says Lynette. “I’ve taken in-depth courses, but this is nice because the activities are short. I live a very busy life, so having short activities is good.”
Lynette says she appreciates the fact that she can participate on her own schedule rather than attending a class at a set time.
“I can come and go. Sometimes, questions cause me to step back and say, “Gee, I really have to think about this.’ So, I’ll just log off and think about it a while, do what I need to do, and then come back and revisit it.”
Although people explore the modules individually, it doesn’t mean they’re left on their own. Parish and diocesan moderators ensure folks are not running into any obstacles, whether it’s a problem navigating the online program or a question about a certain topic. There are also group discussions in which people are invited to participate.
“Even if they do it self-paced, they are not alone. They have other people who will walk with them,” says Lori.
“I think that’s a key piece of this program,” says Hannah Gonneville, assistant coordinator for lifelong faith formation. “It’s nice to actually have interactions with the group because then it seems more manageable. You know you’re not doing it alone.”
Among the group moderators is Judy Michaud, a member of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Saint Agatha. She is helping to guide 33 participants from Caribou to Kittery. Like Lynette, she sees the program’s accessibility and flexibility as among its biggest draws. She says it allows for all types of learners.
“Some people like to read, and they read well, and they read fast. Others need a little more time to read and comprehend exactly what they’re reading and to let that absorb a little bit in their minds,” she says. “It’s not confined to a certain time or certain days or certain numbers of people. You can go on it whenever it’s convenient. You take the time you need to do the segment or the whole module. It’s very adaptable.”
Because it is online, Judy says another plus is the ease of finding Scripture passages or other material that is referenced.
“It has the Church documents incorporated into the module, and the program makes it very easy to access those. For instance, if they reference Matthew 15:28, that’s a hyperlink, so all you have to do is click on that and the Scripture will come up,” she says.
In addition to the moderator check-ins and group chats, the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation asks participants across the diocese to join together via videoconferencing at the launch and conclusion of each module.
“There is something about coming together to pray in real time and then having people practice sharing, giving witness to their faith,” says Lori.
Those sessions are set about seven weeks apart, but even then, there is no pressure if someone hasn’t yet completed a module.
“There are self-paced learners, those who are kind of doing things at their own pace. They’re invited to the opening and closing sessions for the module, but they could be at a whole different module,” says Shawn Gregory, coordinator of youth ministry. “I’m following along with them and checking in with them, not really as a moderator, just as a how are things going, are you all set, type of thing.”
Echoes in Faith will span three years with new participants welcomed at least twice a year. The next opportunities to join are May 24 and July 19. All modules remain accessible, so even if one has gone by, you can still use it or complete the activities when the module comes up again in the community-track schedule.
“It is very rich and very useful,” says Joanne. “I really appreciate the diocese bringing us this course.”
The Echoes in Faith program is a core element of an overarching initiative from the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation called Echoing Faith in Maine.
“The big program is about animating the whole community in Maine to be people who echo the faith, echo the Gospel of life,” explains Lori. “It’s to help people celebrate the gift that God really has planted among us and to lift that up in a way that helps people naturally recognize how God loves them and invites them to share that love.”
Lori stresses the importance of recognizing and celebrating the beauty of our faith in the places where we live, saying a desire to share God’s love comes from valuing His presence among us.
“It’s to echo faith with Maine accents, so it’s not about putting some outside model on Maine. It’s helping to bring forth the voice that is truly Maine, reflecting Christ’s message,” she says.
She hopes the Echoes of Faith program will be a valuable tool in helping people find their voices.
“It provides us with a variety of ways of accomplishing that goal of building the confidence of people in their knowledge and their love of Christ and their skills for being able to share that effectively with others,” she says.
“I think it’s just a great way to understand better and how we as Catholics look at the Bible and how we can use the Bible in our own lives. It makes you stop and think,” says Shelly Carpenter, who is the moderator of a group from St. Thérèse of Lisieux Parish in Sanford. “Everyone should be learning and keeping sharp on the faith. We shouldn’t just let it stagnate.”
“It’s a great opportunity for anyone to just deepen their faith and to come to a clearer understanding of it,” says Lynette. “I love it. I actually love it.”