It is good to be home in my own bed and drinking my own coffee again after a four-day jaunt to the National Catholic Educators Association annual convention here in Orlando. Although we live only forty minutes from the Orange County Convention site, we decided to take hotel accommodations next to the center, so we would have convenient connections to the many friends my wife has made over the years in her quarter-century work with NCEA. (In fact, we brought one old friend home with us so he can enjoy some balmy bike-riding weather.
I only attended one instructional session, namely my own. I was exceptionally pleased with the warm reception and professional focus of the individuals who attended, and I certainly wish them well. In the harried environment that always surrounds the end of a program, I neglected to invite them to stay in touch through the Café or other means if I can be of help. Of course, this invitation also goes out to anyone who ever stumbles upon this site. One funny anecdote (well, it seems funny now but not at the time) is my business card adventure. I designed, with much help from my wife, a new card for the Convention. I received them: unfortunately they were sitting neatly bundled at my front door on my arrival home last night.
Aside from the Convention Masses, I spent the entire Convention in the exhibitors’ hall. I had the opportunity to speak to a wide range of individuals, primarily those involved in publishing, religious education program designing, religious orders, Catholic Universities, and humanitarian ventures, such as the Anti-Defamation League. My cerebral data base was overloaded with both intriguing descriptions of the religious book/media market and the scrambles to develop parish programming effective for every member of the family.
As The Café generally dedicates Fridays to Morality, I would like to at least discuss some trends in teaching morality and the attendant publishing I observed at the Convention Expo Center. I would say that the preponderance of the featured material was devoted to a new intensity of concern and material in the teaching of morality and spirituality. While this was certainly true in matters of sexual morality, there appears to be an awareness of “The New Evangelization,” which I think has come to be understood as a need for new intensity in returning to personal devotion as well as extending the Gospel invitation to the unchurched, the alienated, and the fallen-away. To put it another way, Catholics are attending boot camp these days for the evangelical and cultural challenges ahead.
There were a good number of vendors focusing on the very basic rudiments of Catholic life: rosaries, simple prayer books (compendiums of traditional Catholic prayer, formats for confession, reflections on the mysteries of the rosary, etc.) I do not think this marketing emphasis reflects dissatisfaction with Catholic school content, but rather it may be addressing a concern that catechists have expressed for decades: the inactive Catholic parents. My own diocese’s director of faith formation has emphasized to me on many occasions the trending toward family based faith formation, and I saw evidence of this in materials available at the Convention.
In this environment the publishers were a wealth of information for me. It is a hard time for the major publishers, the series you may be currently using in your own parish or school, to meet what is clearly a diversifying market. I asked if they were diversifying into other forms of media (streaming, DVD, etc.) I learned from a number that while the USCCB carefully reviews religious teaching texts for conformity with the Catechism (an interesting site, by the way) there is not a parallel review of other media, notably electronic media, in part because it is physically impossible. I noted that in this blog I had reviewed several on-line faith formation programs, and one representative admitted that the decision regarding on-line programs essentially rests with a local bishop. We spoke of one diocese where a bishop evidently fell in love with an on-line program and just mandated it for his diocese. Canonically, the bishop is the senior catechist of a diocese and has the right to do this, but it does seem that the USCCB as a whole has taken the position regarding doctrinal standards of texts, at least, that a national unity in catechetics is a desideratum. I did hear considerable talk, by the way, about the USCCB issuing national standards of certification for catechists and religion teachers, which I think is an excellent concept if hard to enforce in the breech.
On the other end of the spectrum, I met new publishers attempting to break into the Catholic market. Several explained to me the somewhat arduous process of getting USCCB approval. Just about all of these folks have invested heavily into their ventures, and many have lost a lot of money. My impression is they are motivated by the New Evangelization and a growing concern about the decline of the American culture. I think the primary problems they will face is precisely the helter-skelter nature of the thousands of educational internet sites (and publishers) calling themselves “Catholic.” The honest brokers also told me that getting theological/educational experts to review their works in publication is a lot harder than they envisioned. I can understand that.
This is a very general summary of one aspect of Faith Formation as seen on the Exhibition floor of the NCEA.
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