With Pennsylvania schools now closed for the rest of the academic year, many parishes across the Diocese of Scranton have worked to transition their religious education and faith formation programs to an online learning platform.
During this unprecedented time, the Diocese of Scranton Office for Parish Life has been working to bring Directors of Religious Education and youth ministers together on a regular basis.
Jacki Douglas, Director for WORD and Lifelong Faith Formation and Shannon Kowalski, Coordinator for Youth/Young Adult Ministry, have started to offer weekly video conference chats for parish faith formation leaders.
“We’re in a forum where you don’t have to speak. You can just be there to listen to what is going on and get filled up,” Douglas said. On Wednesday, April 15, 2020, a total of 26 religious education leaders from across the Diocese joined in the weekly discussion. They reflected on scripture and talked about the challenges and opportunities that the COVID-19 pandemic brings.
Kathy Stocki, Faith Formation Director for Saint Ann Basilica Parish in West Scranton, was one of the participants in the conversation.
“In so many ways, we as catechists have lamented that our reach was somewhat specific to the students who were enrolled in our programs and throughout this experience, our reach has become greater,” Stocki said.
Using the REMIND App, Saint Ann Basilica Parish has put out religious education resources to families to support not just children in their faith experience, but everyone, during the coronavirus crisis.
“The extension of the catechesis, I think, has been a blessing in some ways because it has extended our reach,” Stocki added. “Where they are, Church is.”
Sandy Czyczyk, Director of Religious Education at Saint Catherine of Siena Parish in Moscow, said her parish also uses the REMIND App to communicate with parents.
“I used the catechetical Sunday theme, ‘Jesus, Stay with Us,’ as an introduction to our first weekend of Gospel readings and letting parents know that information would be coming from the teachers for lessons each week,” Czyczyk said.
Without having students filling classrooms on a weekly basis, Czyczyk said she has spent her time researching videos that best explain the Gospel message for her different grade levels and coming up with questions for families to reflect on together.
“We are directing it to the family and I think it is really exciting that I’m putting the reading in the hands of the parents,” she added.
During Holy Week, Saint Catherine of Siena Parish encouraged families to make an “Alleluia banner” for their homes.
“We’re trying to continue formation in more creative ways. It is more challenging doing it online but parents are receptive to whatever they’re getting,” Czyczyk said.
Sue Burke, Director of Faith Formation at Our Lady of the Snows Parish and the Church of Saint Benedict, said she has been working to make sure her students, especially those involved in youth ministry, are supported at this time.
“We have a group FaceTime we try to do two times a week and we just try to stay in touch with them and stay positive for them,” Burke said.
In terms of seizing this moment as an opportunity, Burke said, “it has taken me back to the basics.”
The struggle of young adults is also being felt at Saint Joseph the Worker Parish in Williamsport, where youth ministry members typically met on Sunday night before the coronavirus.
“They’re longing for the Eucharist…They don’t know when this will end,” Makenzie Conner, Director of Youth Ministry, said. “That has been the hardest part, hearing how students are upset over not being able to go to Mass or confession. Holy Week was rough.”
At the Lycoming County parish, young adults are being encouraged to take part in online programming. One student has even started a Catholic teen blog during this uneasy time period.
“We’re really trying to push the domestic church, what are you doing as a family together? What does your home life look like every Sunday? People are posting pictures of how they watch Mass or posting what they did as a family. There has been a lot of great stories,” Conner added.
While there are a lot of uncertainties over the current health situation, including when things will get back to normal, Directors of Religious Education and youth ministers say every challenge presents an opportunity.
“I think it’s a wonderful time to really encourage all of our families to be united with our priests and our bishop and all those who are serving us in the faith and doing such a wonderful job bringing so many of these virtual and electronic resources to us in our homes,” Stocki said.
Any Director of Religious Education or youth minister who would like to join the weekly video conference discussion can email JDouglas@dioceseofscranton.org for the weekly link.