Of DREs and the parish
– Pope Benedict XVI
Likewise, it is the task of a Director of Faith Formation/Religious Education to assist the pastor in this task of preserving the faith within the parish community. My own work as a DFF (or DRE if you prefer) is therefore always directed toward one ultimate goal: that everyone in the parish may be equipped and prepared to “run the race” and to “win the fight”, so as to come one day – when our time on earth is concluded – to eternal joy as a saint!
Great. But how? Some DREs have been given free rein over their programs, others are kept on a short leash by their pastor. In either case, the dynamics of a parish these days are tough for anyone to follow or deal with adequately, particularly those of parishes that also have a school and the whole parish school "culture” that develops as a consequence. And if the DRE doesn’t have a job description that deals with the spiritual life of both the school and parish faith formation programs…. Oh boy. Any kind of unifying formation, especially Sacramental preparation (Confession, Holy Communion, Confirmation) that should involve the participation of both parish school kids and public school kids in a single parish-based program, is then a nightmare to introduce, develop and run.
I am beginning to realize that the Church survived for a very long time before DREs came to “help” the pastors. And with that realization has come The Question – why am I here? Why are any DREs here now? Are we really necessary… or even desirable… for the mission of Mother Church? If so, what is our role, what are the temptations that we encounter that threaten our fulfillment of this role, and how can we avoid falling for them or get out of the pit if we have fallen already? If not, what then are the authentic ways that we as laity can assist Mother Church?
Not that I’m trying to convince you that my job is unnecessary… but rather to say that I have been considering lately that, back in the day, when it was typically the sole responsibility of the pastor to teach the faith to the parish (aided by teachers, not administrating, organizing, decision-making, responsibility-bearing “directors”) it may have been hard at times to balance it all, but at least the priest has two things that no lay person can have: the grace of the Sacrament of Holy Orders, first and foremost, and secondly the authority to lead his parish (under the bishop, of course). Those are some pretty big things to be lacking now in today’s typical parish religious education decision-making model, led by a lay person or even a religious sister/brother. It seems like this task, which, as the Pope observes, belongs properly to the bishops and priests, may not be the most appropriate choice for us laity to (practically speaking anyway) take over.
You know, a couple of years ago, I had never heard of a parish that did NOT have a “DRE” or “Director of Faith Formation” on staff. Then I met some folks from the diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska. They told me that there are no parish “DREs” in Lincoln, but instead a priest who is a diocesan DRE and within the parishes themselves lay and religious (ie, “nun”) catechists working with the pastor. I haven’t been able to find any more information about this online, but I admit it intrigues me. Does the diocesan DRE set the program to be used across the diocese? Do they use the same programs for parish faith formation and Catholic schools? What happens when the diocese “changes hands” and another bishop isn’t quite as on top of things as Bishop Bruskewitz is? What do the priests and parishioners of the diocese think? How can this existence of such a radically different model of religious education help us to re-examine our own assumptions of what parish religious education “must” entail?
Another thought along a different line - I just remembered that someone told me once that St. Agnes parish in St. Paul didn't have a DRE, but that everything catechetical/youth group in nature was coordinated directly through the pastor and with the school (haven't confirmed this though, there's no info on it on their website). Hmmmmmm. So, when there is a parish school... why HASN'T it commonly developed that all faith formation be done in conjunction with the school instead of creating a parallel track? Why have one person at the church for the "parish" and then have a whole other person or group of persons for the "school"? Doesn't this just help to spread that attitude of church vs. school and make things more difficult than they need to be? Dunno, just wondering alound.
Anyone else care to comment on this whole parish/school/faith formation/DRE topic?