Friday, August 26, 2011

Fan Clubs and Sunday School

There seems to be always somebody looking for reasons why something is not going well. In recent years Sunday school programs have not been doing as well as expected, with decreasing attendance the norm in all the parishes. To deal with this situation, and others, many of our young priests are going on for degrees in youth studies, which will bring new ideas into pastoral work with the young.

A  Peace Weekly article profiled a young priest who wrote his master's thesis on the fan clubs now popular with many of our young people, specifically on how much time young people will devote to participation in society as a result of their participation in fan clubs. The clubs can be dedicated to any of various interests concerning the stars they adulate, but in all cases the clubs are run by the  members.   The priest sees a similarity between the deference given to celebrities by their fan clubs and the way Catholics participate in the Church.  Even though club members have never met the stars they adulate, they think of them often, wanting to do what they do, but desiring  nothing in return.

To put it bluntly, we are Jesus' fan club; we are his enthusiasts. While the priest was studying for his thesis a member of a famous band had to leave the band because of what he had said publicly.  For 3 months the fan club marched in silence to have him reinstated.

To gain first-hand knowledge of these fan clubs, the priest joined a club that decided to help a preschool group of children. It was during this time of sharing deeply with the fan club members, seeing their energy, creativity and spontaneity, that gave him the opportunity to discover some answers to the Sunday school problem.

We often say the stagnation we see in the Sunday school programs is due to the passivity of the young people. However, the priest's experience with the group that helped the preschool children clearly showed that passivity  was not the problem. He found that young people, when properly motivated, can be very active; in this particular case, hiring buses, preparing for a concert, and all the while giving the praise for how well the work was progressing to the group they were helping, even though it took time away from their own personal lives.

The priest feels that utilizing  the fan club format and its built-in enthusiasm will help solve the problems besetting our Sunday school programs. We need to make use of the  same energy shown by the fan clubs, he says, its potential for creative and  dynamic action to invigorate the Church programs. As they are now designed, our programs follow the cramming method of education, and the students are not given any opportunity to participate.

His conclusion, using prayer as an example, is to start praying before you start defining what prayer is, before you start reading about it in books. After praying, then share your thoughts  on what was felt, and only then go on to the theory.  We should never forget that before speculating on how to deal successfully with our young people, we need to start by listening to them. remembering that whatever is finally done to correct the present difficulties with the Sunday school programs, our young people are and should remain our main focus.                                                                                                                                                          

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