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Continuing Education: Adult Faith Formation

As Catholics, formation in the faith is not just for the ‘pre-confirmation’ crowd of children, those being formed at home, in Catholic schools, in faith/youth formation, and adults in RCIA. Our faith is a continual process of building understanding and deepening those beliefs. Monsignor Clay points out, “Formation in faith occurs on many levels. First, we are formed in our faith through our liturgical worship. The worship experience provides us with a direct encounter with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. Second, we are formed in our faith through instruction, from toddlers to senior citizens. While we understandably tend to focus on the faith formation of our children and youth, 2300 adults participated in some type of formation last year at St. Francis, a sign of a healthy parish. Third, our formation comes through our service. It’s where we put our beliefs into practice and continue to grow in understanding of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.”

In his second point, adult formation takes the form of instruction for adults in varied ways. These can be through participation in Bible study, Sunday morning adult formation, conferences, workshops, and retreats, among others, all found at St. Francis. As Msgr. Clay expressed, “This is something to be immensely proud of.” To highlight just a few of these ‘adult formation’ opportunities, the leaders of some of these efforts have provided a brief overview.

The Little Rock Scripture group, led by Barbara Efird, Cindy Cardello, and Diane Rosendahl, has facilitated Bible study at St. Francis for the past two decades. Using Little Rock Scripture Study materials, they do three studies per year and are now 100% virtual, and offer each study two times a week, on Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings. The Fall Bible study begins in September and finishes before Advent. The next session starts in January and ends before Holy Week, and they squeeze another study in after Easter, which ends before summer. Barbara says, “What makes us unique is the leaders of the sessions are facilitators and have strong skills. As a former school counselor, I am adamant about facilitating and not using a lecture format. Our participants love this method and operation.” “Now,” says Barbara, “we have expanded somewhat to include a ministry format where we do hospitality for RCIA and participate in the Ministry Fair. So we have branched out in the past two years as a ministry and an educational and formational study.” 

The Women’s Ministry at St Francis, previously discussed in a story here, offers a space where women can gather to deepen their faith, share their gifts, uplift each other, and feel valued and loved. Jess Kelly, who leads the group with Kathryn Noblitt, says, “We do this by inviting the women of our community to participate in events that open up deeper experiences of God through retreats, Bible Studies, and prayer experiences.” She adds, “I feel like the Women’s Ministry fits very well into the greater faith formation efforts in the parish. We provide the parish’s women with a sense of community where we can walk with each other on our faith journeys.” When asked what this ministerial community can offer for someone looking to grow their faith, Jess says, “We offer you a place where you can cultivate a sense of belonging in a community that will lift you and invite you to look more deeply at your faith and recognize how radically God loves you!”

When Deacon Steve Andrews arrived at St Francis in 2015, the Men’s Prayer Breakfast had already been formed and operating for some time. The monthly meetings, held the first  Monday of each month, were popular and became more so when Father Steve Kluge took over the ministry in 2017 when the former facilitator moved out of the area. “During Fr. Kluge’s tenure as facilitator,” says Deacon Steve, “we discussed several books to engage in a conversation about faith.” During the discussion of one of these books, The Return of the Prodigal Son, the meetings became very engaging, and the group moved to two monthly sessions. Even when COVID hit, there was a desire to continue, and the sessions became via Zoom. Deacon Steve led the ministry when the friars left St. Francis and began to facilitate the meetings. With the meetings on Zoom, attendance fell, but when the COVID rules were relaxed, the men wanted to meet again in person. “We now have 16 men registered for the meeting,” says Steve, ”and they come having read the assignment and excited to engage in the discussions. I see they are searching to go deeper in their faith, and the readings and discussions help satisfy that desire.”   

Deacon Steve is also involved in the Engaging Spirituality program at St. Francis. “After completing an “Engaging Spirituality” program in 2017,” he says, “several of us wanted to continue discussions on the topic of spirituality. The insights gained in studying and discussing spirituality proved very fruitful.” In the beginning, according to Steve, various methods were tried, but what finally got them going was when a parishioner introduced the book Bridges to Contemplative Living with Thomas Merton to the group.The series of eight books, each with eight lessons, provided minimal reading but very insightful thoughts for dialogue,” Steve says, “and this series introduced us to ‘Contemplative Dialogue’ as a way to run our meetings.” Contemplative Dialogue is a strategy to move beyond the personal as discussions probe significant ideas in groups while listening deeply for the truth in another person’s point of view. It is a means of readying the ground for collective transformation and helps develop understanding among all group members. 

These ministries, among many others, are available to help grow your faith as an adult. Still, there is another critical initiative in our parish, this one for parents. Monsignor Clay enthusiastically says, “We are blessed to have outstanding schools and a great faith formation program. We are offering more to adults in the way of ongoing adult formation and, this year, are offering special sessions for parents on Sundays when we have faith formation so they may grow in their faith and their role as parents.  I hope more and more of our adult parishioners will take advantage of this opportunity and all these other formation offerings.“

Faith formation also inspires and supports the long-held mission of our parish. As Monsignor Clay points out, “People generally don’t stay invested long-term in outreach and service unless there is something within them that convicts them of the “ought-ness” of their involvement. The long-standing conviction of the Franciscan friars and parishioners to form a faith community committed to service that is continuing as a parish, now led by diocesan priests, shows the impact faith formation has in terms of outreach and service.” 

Mike Watson