Catechists – nurturing the grassroots of faith
For some, it’s a passion for spreading the faith; for others, it’s seeing the eyes light up on receptive young faces.
During a recent Catechists’ training day in Cooma, lay volunteers who give up their time to teach religion in NSW government schools shared insights into the joys and challenges that come with perhaps one of the Catholic Church’s lesser-known ministries.
For Joan, one of the catechists, the joy of teaching religion comes through her “passion for sharing her faith”. Others said satisfaction came from seeing how the students responded to the teaching, the quality of the questions asked, and their degree of engagement.
Fr Mick MacAndrew, the parish priest of St Patrick’s Cooma who also participated in the workshop, said he loves being with the students when the “light bulb goes off” for them.
The Cooma parish is far-flung, and the lay catechists who took part have worked in public schools in Adaminaby, Nimmitabel and Cooma.
With a different situation in the ACT, the NSW catechists’ voluntary work for the Archdiocese falls under the NSW Government’s Special Religious Education (SRE) program.
In NSW, religious education is mandated by legislation which gives approved religious authorities (such as Christian churches) permission to teach SRE to students in NSW public schools.
Depending on the need and what parents request, the instruction can be either specifically Catholic or ecumenically Christian.
Lesson material includes biblical stories, puzzles, artwork and similar approaches.
Having enough time in the classroom can be a problem, but catechist Teresa said, “you have to take what you can get.”
Training sessions held throughout the Archdiocese’s NSW parishes focus on providing resources and support for the catechists, including mandatory child protection and safeguarding education.
Archbishop Prowse describes catechists as integral to the vision of bringing a new generation to the Church and the Gospel message.
Catechist Teresa would agree. She told the Catholic Voice, “there’s nothing better than seeing the light in a child’s eye when they understand what it means to be in the family of God.”