Intergenerational Religious Education

This school year, the grade school RE in Osakis will begin using what is commonly called an Intergenerational teaching model.

Tonya has been testing a modified version of this in Belle River for several years by inviting parishioners of all ages to participate in four special classes throughout the year. The first time I heard about Intergeneration RE was in my first year of major seminary when I was assigned to a teaching parish, Immaculate Conception, in Becker, MN. They were pioneers in developing this teaching model, one of four in the United States at the time. Those four parishes communicated frequently between themselves to discuss what was working and what didn’t work well. The common structure consisted of two classes each month, both teaching the same materials, but allowing those with conflicts with one class the flexibility to attend the alternate class. The entire family of those with school age children were expected to attend and every parishioner was invited to attend (that is not currently possible with COVID). The first half of each class was a combined session for all ages. During the second half the school age children broke out into work sessions appropriate for their age level and the adults met together. Adults were given adult level instruction on the topic that the students were to cover before the next class the following month as well as materials to work with their children at home. Many variations of this class structure now exist.

I was quite skeptical about this method of teaching RE during my first year. I knew some parents would either not come to the classes at all or would not take the time to work with their children at home. But as I talked with attendees, I gradually changed my mind. Adults without school age children spoke highly of the program, as did the parents. By the second year (I was assigned to that teaching parish for four years), I had changed my mind. Having taught RE in my previous life, I knew that students learn better when parents are involved. I also realized many parents didn’t know enough about their faith to become involved, and few attempts are usually made by traditional RE instructors to help parents follow the program to be able to become involved.

As a pastor who gives instruction to candidates and catechumens for RCIA, it is fun to watch those usually cradle Catholic spouses or fiancés who attend with their non-Catholic partner become just as, or even more, involved with questions about the Catholic faith that they don’t know the answers to than the non-Catholic.

Most Catholics do not seem to know our Catholic faith as well as we should.

Intergenerational RE has the potential to change that. Parental involvement with young people’s faith development tends to keep the young people involved after they leave home, and Intergenerational RE gets more parents involved than traditional RE.

The reason I haven’t pushed implementation of Intergenerational RE before now results from a bad experience I had before being assigned here. I won’t go into many specifics, but assuming I would continue my assignment as pastor of the two parishes I was then the associate pastor of, I participated with several RE teachers, coordinators and parishioners at a multi-day training event for Intergenerational RE. One of the two parishes decided to try it the following year, even creating one of the first class plans during our training. Soon after, I was reassigned here instead. The new pastor that replaced me did not support the new program and there were many hurt feelings and resignations. Not knowing how assignments to parishes worked yet (not knowing how long I would be assigned here), I decided not to push Intergenerational RE, but gently encouraged it…I did not want any chance of a repeat here. COVID changed that. I am here this school year, and with the COVID restrictions, I believe now is the time to try it.

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