Mission Field is a relevant and accessible resource to facilitate conversations that lead to the transformation of faith formation structures. This short (40 page) resource provides the philosophical and ecclesial foundations that guide our ministries. We hope that both the pastor and director work together through this tool, have honest and meaningful conversations, and make a plan that will best suit your community. You may also consider gathering a group of parents and other parish leaders who are invested in formation renewal to read and discuss with you.
From the Introduction:
The purpose of this booklet is to provide a tool to help revision parish faith formation structures. It is hard to imagine making a change when we may have not experienced or seen another way. We will explore the use of the who, what, when, where, why, and how framework to honestly evaluate our current practices and implement the vision of the Church for faith formation in this time. A framework is meant to be filled in, just like a framed house without finishes is not complete. This is not meant to be a complete guide, but rather a starting point, providing a horizon toward which we can grow. Our assumptions inform our strategies. We will question our assumptions and build a foundation to make the needed changes courageously. We are invited to think outside the box, while remaining in our tradition.
Growing up in the 1970’s, my experience of faith formation was an hour of misery every Wednesday afternoon. Well intentioned people tried to force me to do art projects to somehow convince me that God created the butterflies, rainbows and trees. Although the content of faith formation has greatly improved over the years, the primary model of drive-through faith formation has stayed the same as we watch over the decades people leaving the practice of the Faith.
Fr. Tim Donovan, faithful to the vision of the Second Vatican Council and the subsequent magisterial documents on evangelization and faith formation rightly proposed that we have to give more than lip service to the reality that parents are the primary educators of their family in the faith. Our task is to equip the parents to share the faith and integrate the faith into all the experiences one has during the week. Rather than just being dropped off at the church for something that is disconnected (or even antithetical to what they receive 5 days a week in public school), the child now learns of the Lord at home in ways that allow faith to permeate all aspects of his or her life. In an engaging, thoughtful and clear presentation, Father Tim helps us to see the need to change the structures of faith formation and lays out a path forward that is applicable for parish faith formation programs as well as adapted for those in a Catholic school. The process that Father Donovan uses focusing on who, what, when, where, why, and how allows the reader to begin to imagine a faith formation structure that helps both parents and children to fall in love with the Lord, learn to pray as a family and truly live their faith.
Fr. Tim rightly addresses that this proposal can cause fear in the hearts of some priests and faith formation staff: What if we lose what little we have? This booklet provides a balanced approach to integrating a new structure that does not throw the baby away with the bathwater. Again, if we do nothing, we will gradually lose what little we have through a long, depressing lack of faith. Does the Lord not remind us to “Be not afraid” and to “Set out in the deep” trusting that He will be with us? Before we have no parents bringing their children to receive sacraments we have to adapt to our new reality and provide structures that will bring souls to Christ and eventually, build our parishes into vibrant communities of missionary disciples. Mission Field provides the resources to do just that.
Do you have a desire to transform the Church? Have you been discouraged by the current faith formation practices and resources available at the parish level? Do you long for a vibrant and fruitful parish, but are wondering how to start? Then you must read Mission Field by Fr. Tim Donovan. This short resource provides parish leadership with a framework of how the Church can reengage the family and how to transition your parish community towards a life of abundance. Mission Field will walk your parish team through the who, what, when, where, why, and how to begin the systemic shift necessary to accompany and form faith communities in today’s secular culture. The model beautifully fosters an encounter with the mystery of our faith and guides the reader through how to holistically unpack that mystery within the parish. Mission Field answers Pope Francis’s call to revision formation through the lens of the catechumenate. It will challenge your team to begin thinking how your parish can transition all formation initiatives to be family-centric and impactful beyond the walls of your parish building. The resource provides fruitful time for reflection to see how the framework can be most effective for your parish. The Church today needs disciples who are not afraid to innovate and take risks to hand on the Gospel. Remember you are not alone in this process and I hope Mission Field will be as helpful for your team as it has been for ours.
If you feel the “holy discontent” of doing the same thing repeatedly and desiring different results, Mission Field is the key to unlocking a new approach. Father Tim Donovan makes the case for investing in the long game of family-based faith formation. The purpose of the book is to provide a tool to help revise parish faith formation structures. By spending two-thirds of our efforts forming parents, we will experience a better return on the faith formation of the entire family. How do we transform parish structures to allow for this kind of radical shift? By walking with families on their journeys, meeting them where they are, and drawing them closer to an encounter with Christ, we will experience deeper faith and engagement from the entire family.
Drawing from church documents, recently published books, the catechism, Directory for Catechesis, and his own extensive experience, Father Tim’s main points include:
We cannot continue to do the same thing repeatedly and expect different or better results.
The feeling of “holy discontent” drives us to seek a better option that produces fruit that will remain.
The traditional American model of dropping children off at the parish for a classroom-based faith formation experience is all we have seen and it isn’t bearing fruit that remains.
Family life - the domestic church - has always been the primary means of passing on the faith to the next generation.
The contemporary mission field is that of the family. By moving to a family-centric, church-supported model, parish leaders can accompany families on their faith journeys.
Mission Field is the foundational piece for pastors and parish decision-makers to understand the “why” behind a new approach to catechesis. Especially for those who hesitate to make such a radical change, or for those who need to communicate with people who are hesitant, this book arms us with a strong case for “why.”