Catholic Herald staff
Once a mainly supportive organization, the Superior Mutual Ministry Team (SUMMIT) is fashioning a new role for itself.
With guidance from Bishop James P. Powers, updated goals and a more collaborative emphasis, the professional organization for catechetical leaders is again active in the diocese.
To kick off the new catechetical year, SUMMIT will host a gathering for all catechists, faith formation leaders, youth ministers and clergy Thursday, Sept. 15, at St. Anthony de Padua, Tony.
Tom Thibodeau, director of the servant leadership program and chair of the religious studies/philosophy department at Viterbo University, La Crosse, will speak on ritual and celebration and how to bring them into the classroom.
The event is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and includes a business meeting. Lunch will be provided.
Formed in 1982 to provide educational opportunities for catechetical leaders, SUMMIT is revising its goals in response to new needs, said Kim Palmer, director of religious education at Immaculate Conception, New Richmond.
Palmer has been in faith formation ministry for more than 33 years – first as a catechist, then as a coordinator of religious education, and now as director.
She joined SUMMIT in 1992 and, as was the case in many parishes, funding at Immaculate Conception dried up after the stock market crash. She left in 2009 and returned in 2015.
While SUMMIT lay dormant, the landscape of catechesis was changing. In the past, the organization’s gatherings functioned as continuing education for certified catechetical leaders, few of whom had access to schooling without a great deal of travel.
Today, the need for education is less pressing, Palmer explained. The diocese hosts leadership days, classes on Forming Effective Disciples and other programs designed to fill that void.
The roles of coordinators or directors of religious education – the current acronym is PCLs for parish catechetical leaders – have also changed, she added. Some parishes have paid PCLs, some are volunteers.
Volunteer PCLs may be working full-time jobs, which must take priority over their ministry, she said. They may have limited resources and difficulty finding help.
One of SUMMIT’s priorities for their gatherings is to promote networking opportunities among PCLs and offer smaller parishes support from larger parishes.
“Right now, our main purpose is for all of us to reach out to the PCLs who work in the smaller parishes,” she said. “We want to help them feel less overwhelmed.”
They also want to enable smaller parishes to take advantage of online resources and share materials with larger parishes.
Immaculate Conception, for example, has a lot of adult faith formation materials that Palmer loans to other PCLs, and many parishes are sharing Vacation Bible School kits.
She believes all parishes can benefit from more such interaction.
“That’s where we’re moving towards … offering our resources rather than purchasing,” she added.
One of the greatest struggles is bringing technology into smaller parishes. Online videos and classes are available, but some parishes simply don’t have the capability to benefit from those resources, she said.
When SUMMIT came out of hibernation, they sought guidance from Bishop Powers to learn his vision for catechesis in the diocese.
“He had some insights about the process that we took very seriously,” she said.
One of Bishop Powers’ suggestions was to focus on ritual in the classroom.
“He did that because he came to realize that many people have lost the reverence and the respect for the body of Jesus Christ,” she explained.
Rituals have lost their importance in the Catholic Church, she said. “How do we make our rituals come alive, not just for youth, but for adults as well?
“We can sit in the classroom and talk at them,” she added, “but how do you bring it from book learning to the heart?”
SUMMIT’s core group chose Thibodeau to address that topic at the Sept. 15 gathering, and Palmer hopes a short meeting afterward will allow SUMMIT to communicate with faith formation leaders.
Another of SUMMIT’s overarching goals is to facilitate more adult formation.
“Education shouldn’t just focus on the young children,” she said. “The focus needs to be lifelong, and I think everyone would agree with that.”
SUMMIT leaders tentatively hope to schedule a February meeting to learn more about the needs of formation leaders. In the spring, they plan to meet with the bishop and clergy.
Overall, she said, SUMMIT intends to “move forward on echoing the faith, (and) see where we end up.”
For information, contact Kay Berg at 715-453-2878 or .