Catherine Steadman has spent quite a bit of time outside in the bus loop at Church of the Assumption in Fairport over the past few months.
The loop has become the preferred venue for faith-formation events this year, according to Steadman, who coordinates kindergarten through sixth-grade faith formation for the clustered Fairport parishes of Church of the Assumption and Church of the Resurrection.
In December the parishes invited families to come to a drive-through St. Nicholas event, where the children received small stockings from the saint himself. In January, the sidewalk near the bus loop was lit by tealight candles when families arrived for the parishes’ Epiphany-themed Cocoa and Candlelight Evening. Families gathered outdoors May 1 to create small tabletop gardens dedicated to Mary, and again May 23 for the parishes’ Pentecost Family Festival.
“This seemed to us to be the safest way (to host activities), because they always said that the transmission of COVID outdoors was far lower. To have these things outdoors just seemed like the right way to go,” Steadman said.
The past 15 months have been an unprecedented time in parish ministry, and after the onset of the pandemic, parishes scrambled to find ways to connect with and minister to parishioners in new and safe ways. At Church of the Assumption and Church of the Resurrection, that sometimes meant offering events outdoors and other times offering them virtually. Families with children enrolled in the parishes’ faith-formation program, for example, were able to choose to attend an in-person session once a month or complete the program online, Steadman said.
“The majority of our people chose the online program,” she said, noting that approximately 35 families chose the in-person option. “Some would come on a Tuesday night, and some would come on a Sunday afternoon.”
Both the in-person and virtual faith-formation models required the participation of the whole family, Steadman said. The Catholic Church calls parents to be the primary catechists of their children, and involving parents in the parishes’ faith-formation process enables the parents to fulfill their role as catechists, she said.
“We want to get them in learning together as a family and empower the parents to be able to teach their kids,” she said. “A lot of the parents haven’t had great catechesis. If we can give them what they need and help them to teach their kids, then it’s so much the better for everyone.”
Each of the outdoor faith-formation events has had a catechetical component, Steadman said. During the Cocoa and Candlelight Evening in January, for example, she displayed large posters explaining what the three gifts of the Magi represented, and participants talked at length about the Christmas star. At the Pentecost Family Festival, families visited three stations devoted to three symbols of the Holy Spirit — wind, fire and a dove — and at each station they learned about a symbol, read relevant Scripture passages and completed an activity related to the designated symbol. At the wind station, they used pinwheels and blew bubbles; at the dove station, they made origami doves; and at the fire station, they toasted marshmallows over a fire.
Several of the outdoor activities, such as the Mary garden event, have been extremely well-attended, while others, including the Pentecost Family Festival, have only attracted a few families. Steadman said the parishes are in the process of putting together a survey to help parish leaders gauge parishioners’ interest levels in different types of activities.
“I’m willing to do anything to give the people what they want. We’re going to try to figure out what it is they want and try to cater to that,” she said, noting that she’s also hoping to offer a series of summer programs geared toward families.
Parishioner Maria Crowe’s family attended many of the parishes’ outdoor events and hope similar events continue to be offered in the future. Crowe, a volunteer catechist in the parishes’ in-person faith-formation program, said her four children looked forward to the events they attended.
“It was like a little bright spot when there was not much going on,” Crowe said.
Her children love crafts, so they enjoyed making windsocks at the Pentecost Family Festival almost as much as they enjoyed playing with bubbles and toasting marshmallows, but Crowe appreciates the programs for their catechetical value.
“It’s a good way to get them out and encourage them to continue with their faith journey,” she said. “It’s a good way to encourage them to grow in their faith and see it’s not just our family, but our whole community cares and loves you. Your faith can bring you so much.”