Diocesan Office for Parish Life offering Faith Alive! Platform to parishes

HAWLEY – For the last decade, Mary Kennedy has been heavily involved in coordinating the faith formation program at Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Peace parish in Hawley. Due to COVID-19, planning this year’s religious education classes has been unlike anything she has ever experienced.

“It was definitely a daunting task,” Kennedy said. With approximately 150 kids in her parish program, Kennedy is just beginning the registration process at this time and hopes to begin classes in October. While the process is beginning a little later than normal, the big question she has faced all along has been – how do you do it safely? “We are looking to do a hybrid model,” she explained, saying elementary students will most likely participate in synchronous lessons virtually while middle school students will hopefully be able to attend faith formation classes safely in person.

“I love the idea of bringing faith formation into the home, especially in those formation years of elementary school. It is so important,” she added. To assist religious education directors across the Diocese of Scranton, the Diocesan Office for Parish Life is partnering with Faith Alive! powered by Edmodo, a web-based learning management system, and encouraging parishes to consider using it in any way they choose.

“Parishes have so many different variables in them: their location, the number of students, the room they have to hold classes and their ability to sanitize and disinfect after classes have ended, so we knew we had to have options for them to explore,” Jacki Douglas, Diocesan Director of Word and Lifelong Faith Formation, said. Since March, Douglas has been exploring different platforms for religious education and meeting with various publishers. While recognizing that some parishes might be looking to return to in-person faith formation classes while following all guidelines from the Diocese, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pennsylvania Department of Health, she knows many others would need a virtual option. Since many parishes across the Diocese use a wide variety of materials, Douglas felt the Faith Alive! platform would provide the most flexibility for parishes looking to institute any type of virtual learning.

“Our goal was to find a platform that is user-friendly and interactive for children and their families, a landing page for all of their religious education needs. Parishes are able to use Faith Alive! for religious education, RCIA, adult formation, and a wide variety of other options. That means the pastors, DREs, catechists and RCIA coordinators can all utilize this platform,” Douglas explained. While no parish will be required to utilize the Faith Alive! resource, all parishes have been invited to consider it and learn about the many possible uses it could bring.

“They can do live sessions, they can record a session and send it out, they can do anything that works in their parish. They can do a hybrid program, bringing students in one week and working remotely the next week,” Douglas explained. Besides its flexibility, Douglas says the Faith Alive! platform also allows for increased collaboration between parishes in the Diocese. “Faith Alive! can really open up a lot of opportunities and faith sharing at a time when we need it more than ever. Everything that is on the diocesan platform learning site enables the directors of religious education access to what they need for weekly classes. All the information can be shared amongst the parishes,” she added.

“As diocesan administrators we have the ability to load in curriculum or activities for parishes to access including YouTube videos, a prayer service, Mass recordings and at-home family formation activities.” Throughout the course of the pandemic, Douglas has been coordinating weekly meetings of religious education directors across the Diocese to discuss opportunities and strategize for the fall.

“In our weekly meetings with the DREs, it was often said that it gave them great peace to know they were not alone in trying to figure out how to conduct classes remotely,” she added. At Blessed Virgin Mary Queen of Peace Parish, Mary Kennedy says her pastor, Rev. Richard Beck, has taken an active role and is in full support of taking part in the Faith Alive! platform. She believes using it will help fulfill their mission of having each student create and then deepen a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. “It would have been so hard for each individual parish to try and come up with that on their own. I have some technical experience, but not a great deal, so their support is what is really making this experience happen,” she said