Celebrating Catechists!

By Fran Lavelle
I have spent the past year working closely with the Pastoral Reimagining Process for the diocese. Each phase of the process opened up opportunities for lay leaders to contribute to the conversation including their own wisdom and best practices as well as personal struggles.

One common comment that was shared was the difficulty in getting people to volunteer for ministry opportunities at the parishes. Perhaps it is part of the rebuilding after the pandemic or something more systemic, but many leaders noted that they are struggling to maintain a volunteer pool for catechesis as well as other ministries.

Fran Lavelle

Volunteerism across the board is in decline in other denominations as well as civic and service organizations. The percentage of the U.S. population that volunteers on an average day has declined by 28% in the past decade, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Studies suggest many attributing factors such as aging workers working past traditional retirement age. Whatever the cause, the effect is hurting the church’s ability to fulfill Catechetical and formation, as well as other volunteer opportunities at the local level.

We are charged with reimagining how to engage the people in the pews to want to give of their time and talent to our faith communities. One of the best ways to increase interest in giving back to the parish or community is to celebrate the people who are serving in voluntary ministry positions. It might sound silly or perhaps even a bit contrived, but we need to carve out times within the year to highlight the efforts of the lay people who are serving in ministry. And we need to celebrate everyone!

Celebrating everyone can be as simple as having a donut reception after Mass to recognize lay leaders and volunteers or creating a space in your bulletin to highlight the work of your parish’s volunteers. It is also helpful to share success with the community. A Flocknote or bulletin to everyone about the progress of a project or highlights of what the young people in religious education are doing creates opportunities for connection. Cross pollinate ministry opportunities like bringing different parish groups together for fun activities like doing a supply drive for the local animal shelter in conjunction with the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi and the blessing of the animals. People love to give, especially when they see the collective impact of the whole parish. Above all – make it fun! There is nothing worse than people coming to an event to volunteer and the day feels like drudgery. Faith and works can also include fun.

You may have been at a parish where one person or one group does everything. On its face it looks great. Things are being “taken care of.” But are they? One person or one group cannot do everything and if they do how well is it being done? When a parish does a time and talent survey but never calls the people who volunteered to help with specific ministries, we not only lose out on a volunteer, but we lose out on the gifts of those individuals could have shared with our parish family.

One simple idea to help your parish increase the pool of doers is to name a volunteer coordinator for the parish. They would work closely with the pastor, parish staff, ministry leaders to keep their finger on the pulse of what activities are happening at the parish. They would be able to recruit volunteers long in advance of the event. A Flocknote or bulletin announcement of upcoming events and an easy way for people to express interest would help streamline the process. At the end of the day it is about getting everyone involved with passing on the rich story of our faith. Many hands make light work.

Taking a note from my own advice, I want to thank all of the lay leaders, catechists and other volunteers that contributed to all of the formation ministries at our parishes this year. Keep your eye on the prize as you continue to animate the Good News. The fruits of your labor are evident in the young people we encounter at diocesan events and in everyday people we meet in our parishes. Keep doing your very best. We see you!

(Fran Lavelle is the Director of Faith Formation for the Diocese of Jackson.)