Fall Faith Formation Day offers framework for diocesan vision

By Maureen Smith
MADISON – One hundred thirty catechists from across the diocese attended a day-long gathering at St. Joseph School on Saturday, Sept. 30. Fall Faith Formation Day took the Diocese of Jackson’s Pastoral Priorities as its inspiration, offering as its theme: inspire, embrace, serve. When the diocese launched a new set of priorities last year, Bishop Kopacz and his team framed them around a new vision statement to Inspire Disciples, Embrace Diversity and Serve Others.
Fran Lavelle, director of Faith Formation for the diocese, has been anxious to offer catechists an opportunity to get together. “We wanted to make sure everybody in the formational ministries had a chance to be part of a day that maximized our opportunity to bring in some good speakers and it has given us some great ideas for what we want to do next year,” she added.

MADISON – Jessica McMillian spoke about creative catechesis at Faith Formation Day at St. Joseph High School. (Photos by Maureen Smith)

MADISON – Raquel Escobar of Tupelo St. James, and Stacy Wolf and Kathleen Edwards of Pearl St. Jude Parish listen to Father Joseph Brown speak.

Jim Schellman, former director of the North American Forum on the Catechumenate, took on the inspire theme, offering a plenary session called ‘A people on the way.’ Schellman is nationally known for his work in the catechumenate and liturgy. Father Joseph Brown, SJ, used his plenary session to talk about embracing diversity. He wrapped his talk around traditional spirituals, music and storytelling. Slaves, he said, sang because they had faith. He called on the audience to remember “how we were all slaves and strangers in a strange land,” as we are connected to the Israelite tradition.
Father Brown said we have to stop calling groups other than our own ‘them’ and try to find ways to tell and listen to the stories everyone has to tell.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz closed the day with the theme of service. He spoke about his work with Catholic Charities, the most visible direct service arm of the Catholic Church.
Between the plenary sessions, attendees could select breakout sessions, which included: youth liturgy, led by Father Jason Johnston, on faculty at St. Joseph High School; creative catechesis led by Jessica McMillan, coordinator for youth ministry at McComb St. Alphonsus Parish; adult faith formation, offered by Wes Williams, who leads several faith enrichment and formation programs at his parish of Madison St. Francis. Father Brown and Schellman also hosted breakouts.
Carrie Lambert, youth minister at Natchez Basilica of St. Mary, enjoyed creative catechesis. “You need to find God everywhere you are and in everything you do. You need to look for him in ways that you wouldn’t think of necessarily so you can reach your youth – whether it’s the little ones or the teens – you find that kernel in there, find a way to get their attention and make it applicable to them. That’s what I love,” she said.
Gladys Russell, Jackson Holy Family Parish coordinator for youth, attended the breakout on liturgy where Father Jason discussed how understanding the liturgy is key to getting young people really involved. “One of the points we need to get across to our youth is the idea of giving of ourselves as Christ gave of himself for us,” she said.
Arista Evans from Canton Holy Child Jesus echoed that sentiment and appreciated the time she could spend with other youth ministers. “I want to get more ideas and find ways to bring the kids closer to Christ and give them a meaning and a reason for wanting to come to Mass instead of because their Mama is making them. I also wanted to get ideas on how to get the parents more involved with bringing their kids to Mass, because they can’t come to Mass unless their parents bring them,” said Evans.
Several catechists who attended Williams’ breakout session said they enjoyed hearing about different programs he has utilized. “He told his own story which was fascinating to follow. He said about five percent of Catholics are involved. Most come to Mass to put in their time. To get them to be missionary disciples takes a lot of work,” said Sister Lael Niblick, CSA, lay ecclesial minister from Amory St. Helen Parish.
“I was interested in learning ways to attract young professionals, just like the speaker, who had grown up Catholic, but no longer owned their faith. He spoke about living through jarring experiences that call your attention. For him it was the death of his father,” explained Joyce Brasfield-Adams of Jackson Holy Family.
Brasfield-Adams praised the day overall, saying it is good for catechists to share their journey with one another. “It’s important that we have sessions like these where we are able to get together to be fed; where we learn something for ourselves. As catechetical leaders, we try so hard to give something to someone else that I wanted something for me,” she explained.