When my children were young, I put my heart and soul into our parish catechetical program. I was in the midst of studies myself, and on fire with a desire to teach the Catholic faith. There were no paid positions in our rural parish, but I willingly put in many volunteer hours preparing children for Sacraments and facilitating adult faith formation sessions. I had found my calling. In many ways, it was the best of times.
Unfortunately, our parish and diocese was in the midst of a sadly dysfunctional situation with our priest and bishop of the time. Heads were rolling. Priests and laity were being dismissed, often without explanation. Lines were being drawn in the sand. Folks sucked it up, grumbled and stayed. Or, they spoke out and quickly found themselves on the other side of the church door. I was in the latter group. It truly was the worst of times.
I learned several lessons about church politics from this experience. My priest friends, who were skittishly looking over their own shoulders at the time, were not willing to stand up for me. They offered a shoulder to cry on and affirmed the injustice that had been done, but that was the extent of their help. I was left alone. But when two of their own were unceremoniously removed from the diocese, we lay folks were expected to raise our voices in loud protest and support!
I also learned that each parish has a small flock of obedient sheep that will continue to do the pastor`s bidding regardless of the extent of his nastiness. They will commiserate and grumble loudly about the injustices being committed, but never directly to the priest. Their silent acquiescence is interpreted as support, and enables the bad behaviour to continue.
Several priests have come and gone in our parish since then. I had one more `best of times` experience facilitating the RCIA program. The pastor at the time affirmed and empowered us in our work. It was a refreshing interlude, but only lasted as long as his time in the parish. His successor was another over-controlling, micro-manager and I wasn`t ready to join his ranks of minions.
What is my involvement in parish catechetics today? Zilch! Sadly, my roller coaster experience sucked all my energy and passion. I no longer feel called to parish work. It took a long time, but I`ve finally made my peace with it.
I`m sharing this story in the spirit of disclosure. Yes, my experience left me scarred and more than a little embittered. It has also given me the perspective of both an insider and outsider. Our parish catechetical programs have their shining moments, and faith-filled and committed catechists provide the brightest lights. But there are weaknesses that need to be addressed with honesty, creativity and collaboration. And so, this discussion will continue….