Story by S.L. Hansen
CRETE (SNR) - The GodTeens program in Crete has been reinvigorated by Formed.org, the online Catholic resource made available to all parishes in the Diocese of Lincoln by Bishop James Conley earlier this year.
Formed includes YDisciple, a youth formation program created especially for high school-age students, with engaging videos, discussion questions and other activities. It is an ideal way for CYO or GodTeens groups — like the one at St. James Parish in Crete — to help teens understand and grow in their faith.
The parish’s school, St. James, does not include high school, so GodTeens is the only way to support local parents in the faith formation of Catholic teens.
Four couples are the volunteer leaders of GodTeens in Crete. Following the customary GodTeens model, each couple has taken on all the freshmen of a given year, and they will see that class through to graduation.
Bob and Judy Siedhoff lead the seniors (Class of ’16). The Siedhoffs were the first to learn about Formed’s YDisciple during a GodTeen leader retreat.
“We had been teaching ‘Theology of the Body’ freshman year, then out of the Didache books and some YouCat [the Catholic Catechism for teens] for the other two years,” Mrs. Siedhoff recounted. “As great as the Didache series is, it does not work well for an hour and a half class once a week.”
Didache Semester Edition (though they now have a parish edition) is designed for high school religion classes that meet every day. It was difficult for the GodTeens leaders – most of whom are not teachers by profession – to put together a lesson plan that condensed a week’s worth of material into 90 minutes.
The Crete leaders began using YDisciple at the beginning of the fall 2015 semester.
Adam and Maria Wackel host the junior group (Class of ’17).
“They love the program,” Mr. Wackel said about their Godteens, noting that after a video is discussed at a meeting, many of the students will watch the videos again at home.
Ross and Carol Havlat are the leaders for the Crete sophomores (Class of ’18). They appreciate how YDisciple is designed for today’s youth.
“They want material to be upbeat and interesting, and to talk about the issues that really matter in their day-to-day lives,” Mrs. Havlat said. “The format of short video/discussion keeps their attention better.”
“Teens like interaction and not being lectured,” Mrs. Siedhoff agreed. “They have really opened up to discussions.”
Mr. Wackel said the weekly sessions have become more effective since they started using YDisciple.
“It brings up relevant topics that the kids relate to very well and stimulates great discussion,” he said. “I can tell that it is really making an impact on the kids’ lives and behaviors.”
Some of the titles in YDisciple are “Vocations,” “True Strength” (for guys), “True Beauty” (for girls), and “Roadblocks to Discipleship.” Each video comes with questions that really make teens think, such as, “Does your choice in friends lead you toward Jesus or away from Jesus?” or “Does anything about discipleship (following Jesus) worry you?”
All the Crete leaders agreed that YDisciple is a great tool for leaders for multiple reasons.
“It enables just about anyone to teach a youth group,” Mrs. Havlat said. “In small parishes, it’s hard to find enough couples with the time, lesson-planning skills, or ability to teach kids.”
The leaders pick a topic, print off a leader guide – which includes ice-breaker activities, excerpts from the Bible and Catechism, and discussion questions — and have the week’s meeting planned in minutes. The videos are easily shown on a home television or computer.
“The teens learn from the experts in Formed.org, and we just facilitate the learning and discussion.” Mrs. Siedhoff said.
“I’m a nurse, not a teacher, so I appreciated the ease of use,” Mrs. Havlat stressed.
Another aspect of YDisciple that she likes is the quality of the videos.
“High school students really respond to passionate, knowledgeable teaching,” she said. “The speakers on the videos are dynamic, educated, and compelling... even when I don’t particularly feel like my husband and I can be [dynamic] on a Wednesday evening.”
The Havlats have also started using Formed audio and video offerings for their own spiritual edification.
“It’s important to be fed as youth leaders, and Formed is an incredibly easy, accessible way to do that on your own time,” Mrs. Havlat said.
Even though the leaders guide the same group of teens for four years, there’s no worry about running out of material because Formed has so much to offer.
“If we want to watch a movie about a saint or something else, that is available also,” Mrs. Siedhoff said. “We have also looked at the whole index given by topic and by church calendar.”
GodTeens leaders from other parishes can access all the Formed.org materials, including YDisciple, using their parish code. Formed.org is available to everyone in the Diocese of Lincoln to use for personal or group study, free of charge for two full years. Parish log-in codes are available from each pastor or parish secretary.