Story by S.L. Hansen
BELLWOOD (SNR) - St. Peter Parish in Bellwood is taking a different approach to Confraternity of Christian Doctrine (CCD) classes: a combination classroom and home study called Family Formation.
Father Jay Buhman, pastor, explained the change.
“Over the last couple years, I’ve been looking for ways of improving our CCD program by getting parents more involved,” he said. “Parents are the primary educators of their children."
It’s not that there was anything particularly wrong with the existing CCD program. Father Buhman simply wanted to take it to another level.
“We can do all the work— tremendous amounts of work, hours and hours of work— but if it doesn’t seem to be important in the family life, the children don’t really absorb it,” he reasoned. “It’s not going to have an effect on their life.”
He was considering applying for a diocesan grant to get take-home books that supplemented the existing CCD curriculum, when he heard of a different program. A family friend mentioned a program called Family Formation that she had heard about on Catholic radio, which supported the parents as primary educators of their children.
“I thought, ‘Wow, that’s interesting,’” Father Buhman recalled.
He did some investigation and found out that Family Formation was started more than 20 years ago by the Church of St. Paul in Ham Lake, Minn., as a way to bring parents into their catechesis program for youth in kindergarten through the sixth grade. The basic premise is that the parents are trained to pass on the Catholic faith to their children through weekly family gatherings.
Father Buhman discovered that a number of parishes in Omaha were using Family Formation, so he contacted them to find out how well the program was working.
“They spoke so highly of it, I decided to give it a try,” he said.
Now, parents and children arrive together at St. Peter Church for a monthly class. The children are taught by CCD volunteers, while Father Buhman instructs the parents.
“We teach the same thing - on a parent level and on a kid level,” Father Buhman said.
Then, the families are sent home with lesson plans to use for the next three weeks. Each family sets aside about an hour of time with no distractions, and the parents teach their children about the Catholic faith, often learning right along with the kids.
The home lessons include games, activities booklets and audio recordings to make this a positive experience for the whole family.
“I was very impressed with the materials,” Father Buhman said. “They are orthodox, fun, just fantastic. And they are not intimidating. They are written so that they lead the families through it together.”
After three weeks of home study, the families return for another class taught at church and another set of home study lessons.
“They get quizzed over the things they ought to have learned during the three weeks at home, then we teach the new topic,” Father Buhman explained.
The topics are based on the three-year cycle of Sunday Mass readings. For students preparing for sacraments of first confession and first Communion, there is a separate track with specific home study materials that the parents can use one-on-one with those kids.
Currently, Family Formation does not provide a track for Confirmation, as the originating diocese confirms students several years older than in the Diocese of Lincoln, so Father Buhman uses his regular curriculum.
“The Family Curriculum is designed for K-6,” Father Buhman noted. “But we have sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders who are involved and learning, and probably even helping teach the younger children.”
Admittedly, Father Buhman met with a bit of concern when he informed the parish about this new approach to catechesis.
“In the beginning, there were, understandably, parents who were fearful,” he said. “They were afraid that they couldn’t do it.”
With Father Buhman’s encouragement, however, more than 20 families are successfully using Family Formation.
One family is the Schmids. Parents Gary and Laurie are using the materials with third-grader Carly and first-grader Cally. Younger brother Caden is also part of the family time.
“I think in the beginning we were kind of skeptical, but it just turned out I was making it way more complicated than it really was,” Mrs. Schmid said.
“There was nothing wrong with the old CCD, but that was kind of dropping the kids off and that was it,” said Mr. Schmid. “Now it’s more of a family-focused learning experience.”
“It’s good family time,” Mrs. Schmid added.
“We’ve heard a lot of positives,” Father Buhman said. “We have heard from parents that they are learning right along with their children. That’s what we’re looking for.”