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Forming Families in Faith

“Name three good things you can do.”

In a classroom at St. Michael School in Augusta, Sherry Marcum, a catechist, invites students to turn their minds toward service this Lent.

“Name three good deeds you can do during Lent and then draw them out,” she instructs children in the first-year sacrament preparation class.

As the students ponder the possibilities with pencil in hand, their parents are nearby in the gymnasium being given their own questions to consider.

“We’re really going to break open the Scripture today, and in a way, we’re teaching you how to break it open at home,” Sarah Handy, faith formation coordinator, tells the group.

“How do you think your life would change if you read the Bible for a few minutes a day?” she asks.

The children and their parents are participating in the family faith formation program offered by St. Michael Parish in Augusta.  The program is an opportunity for parents to brush up on their faith at the same time that their children are learning the basics of theirs.

“There are a few things I missed out on when I was a kid, and now, I’m relearning this with her,” says Marc Doyon of Whitefield, the father of Heleana, a second grader. “She’s not alone. Daddy is learning with her.”

“It’s ongoing faith formation. What we’ve been saying for years and years is that you have to reach the adults first,” says Gail Gould, pastoral life coordinator. “You have to give them the tools so that they can help their children on their faith journey.  I think this really does that.”

“This is a way for them to unplug for two hours, once a month, and to have that family time and that family faith formation that is needed,” says Sarah.  “Unfortunately, most parents haven’t journeyed in their faith for a while, maybe since second grade when they received their sacraments.”

About 50 families participate in the program, which is held one Sunday each month from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Children preparing to make their first Communion begin one hour earlier.

While the parish also offers traditional Sunday morning religious education, this program is particularly seen as a way to serve families from outlying areas.  St. Michael is comprised of six churches.

“We went this way because we have some outlying churches in our parish, like in Hallowell, Gardiner, and Whitefield, and they had small numbers,” says Gail. “We thought, if we brought all these families together, we could build this community with them, and it’s been wonderful. Everybody loves it.”

“It gives us a chance to bring our kids here, but also, the parents can get together and have a little bit of involvement as well,” says Tim Tyce, the father of Reilly, a fifth grader. “There are people from different parts of our parish who are here, and it’s nice to talk with different people. You see the same faces, and it’s nice to get caught up with how they’re doing.”

Sessions begin with community time and snacks, followed by an opening prayer. The children then head to their classrooms, while the parents remain together for their own lesson and discussion.  Sometimes, there are video presentations, for instance from Matthew Kelly, founder of the Dynamic Catholic Institute, and sometimes, there are guest speakers.

“It’s very nice to have both because it mixes it up, and Matthew Kelly, you can’t beat him,” says Jane Tyce.

After the sessions, the children and parents come back together for a joint activity. The intent is to create a project that will enhance the day’s lessons and further faith formation.  On Thanksgiving, for instance, they made thankful trees using terracotta flowerpots and spray-painted branches.

“We sent them home with leaves that we cut out in fall colors, and they were able to bring it to their family’s Thanksgiving celebration and have everyone write something that they’re thankful for and hang that on their tree,” says Sarah.  “That is something they can use every year.”

On this day, the children popped balloons in which Sarah and Sherry had tucked pieces of paper with words from Scripture. The families then had to gather the words and arrange them to form a Scriptural quote.  The families also used colorful tissue paper to create stained-glass crosses, which had a list of the books of the Bible beneath them.

“If you have a special place in your living room or your bedroom where you keep your Bible, where you keep the things that you make here at faith formation, put that there so you can keep track of all the times that you read the Bible and all the different books that you read in the Bible,” Sarah told them. “Take five minutes as a family and try to do that and, then, put your heart stickers next to it. Then, if you want, you can bring it back the next session, and you can show us all the times that you’ve read in your Bible.”

The parents and children say the crafts are a great way to top off the faith formation sessions.

“We always end with a unifying project, and Sarah does a great job doing something that is creative but something that we do bring home,” says Millie Rauch of Hallowell, who has two children in the program.  “We see it at home, so it’s another physical reminder of what we’ve learned that month.”

“They make it fun.  Instead of just sitting down and doing the work, you’re actually doing something that is making it fun,” says Hannah, her daughter who is in third grade.

“I think it’s great that the children do craft activities in the classroom, but unfortunately, if the parents aren’t there, too, making it with them, the kids will go home and show it to their parents, but it may not be used. When the parents do it, they know how important it is,” says Sarah.

Because the group only meets once a month, the parents are also given packets to take home and work on with their children.

“It’s parent-child teaching as it was originally supposed to be done, and it’s just making us grow closer in faith as a family,” says Marc.

“The really neat thing about this is that we send them home with tangible things they can bring into their homes and use,” says Gail. “It’s not just paperwork.”

The parents say they enjoy the sessions and find them valuable.

“It’s like food for thought. We get to think about it later on and discuss it as a family afterwards,” says Tim.

“It’s so easy to separate Church and home life at times, but it’s a nice reminder every month about what we can do to bring faith back into our daily lives. I think it has strengthened my own faith,” says Millie. “We always need reminders about what we can do to be closer to God