In August, the diocesan Department of Lifelong Faith Formation will welcome a well-known speaker on Catholic adult faith formation to Immaculate Conception Convent of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph in Hamburg. From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 17, "Engaging Adults: Presented by Vibrant Faith" will include Jim Merhaut of Vibrant Faith, a family faith development coordinator.
During the conference, Merhaut will facilitate a series of talks on how to reach out to Catholics in the four major stages of adulthood - young adults, midlife adults, mature adults and older adults - and suggest practical ways, elaborating on traditional practices, and new plans that incorporate the latest technology to make sure adults who have fallen away from the Church come back and lifelong Catholics stay.
The program is recommended for pastors, parish staff, members of adult formation teams and all parish leaders with a vested interest in creating programs designed to engage and retain parishioners in their congregations. According to Sister Barbara Schiavoni, GNSH, associate director of adult faith formation for the diocese, registering for the conference would provide parish leaders with many useful tools.
"We're going to be offering a workshop for adults, and the title of it is 'Engaging Adults: Presented by Vibrant Faith.' The title is really significant: 'engaging adults.' We want to engage, reach out and connect with adults, and help our adults to grow in faith and connect with their parishes, and the focus in on discipleship, to help adults become disciples or strengthen their discipleship," she said. "(Jim) is going to give us strategies for fostering discipleship with adults in the four seasons, and he's going to talk about new models of faith formation, including digital and online methods of faith formations, ways to combine gatherings with follow-up online information and ways that folks can do things independently at home, online."
According to Sister Barbara, adult faith formation is crucial for many reasons, one of which is because it is generally parents or guardians who are responsible for passing faith to their children.
"We need to have parents who are well-formed in their faith," Sister Barbara said, "and also for parish growth and vitality, adults who are close to Jesus and practicing their faith and have that personal relationship and that personal knowledge of God's love and mercy, that helps them to really come alive."
In discussing the importance of adult faith formation, Sister Barbara said in past generations, faith was transmitted "almost through osmosis" in closely-knit communities, often in ethnic neighborhoods with families living in close proximity to one another where children attended Catholic schools or parish faith formation programs. She noted that the Church was once the center of social life. Today, people of all denominations are less involved in organized religion, but people still seek meaning in their lives.
"People want to connect with others to make a difference, to connect with something bigger, something meaningful, that sense of the transcendent, that sense of the other," she said. "As Catholics, we know that we find that through worship in our parishes, through Jesus, through our relationships with God, but many of our Catholics have fallen away from the Church and aren't as involved as they might have been."
Sister Barbara felt that today's culture offers other ways, aside from religion, for people to find a sense of fulfillment, but many of these do not offer lasting fulfillment. Merhaut's focused method of targeting the appropriate "four seasons" of adult life in specific ways also makes it easier to connect with people of different generations, as well as what specific issues people are typically facing at each stage of life.
"Young adults are roughly 18 to 35, and then midlife, people who are raising their school-aged children, say 35 to about 50. Mature adults are roughly 50 to 70, and then 70 and up are the older adults," Sister Barbara said. "It's really important for adults to grow in faith and encounter Jesus throughout their adult lives. Many of us learned our faith as children, and then haven't had much faith formation since then."
As people continue to grow, mature and develop and have all the life experiences they have as adults, the goal is to have a rewarding spiritual life that continues to grow and correspond with maturation. The conference provides adults with an adult perspective on the Bible and having an adult understanding of Church teachings, particularly as they relate to social issues, including pro-life topics up to and including end-of-life issues, the death penalty, care for creation, income inequality and immigration.
"The Gospel has so much to say on all of those things, to help adults to know what our Church teaches and why, so we can develop our stands and understanding of those issues," Sister Barbara said. "Children are going to learn their faith at home, and with faith formation, more is caught than taught, so we really need to develop strong families and practicing families."
After the conference, Sister Barbara will also hold follow-up networking sessions for parish leaders who have attended, with the intention of unpacking what they have learned and helping put it into practice.
This conference is also for parish teams who are attending the church growth conference and want to focus on adult faith formation for parish strategic plan processes. The diocesan Office of Lifelong Faith Formation is available to consult with and assist parishes in all aspects of this process.
Tickets for "Engaging Adults: Presented by Vibrant Faith" are $35 per person, or $25 per person for four or more. Registration is online at https://ea-buffalo.eventbrite.com. For more information, contact Sister Barbara Schiavoni in the Office of Lifelong Faith Formation at 716-847-5516.