Growing In Faith Together


Growing In Faith Together, or G.I.F.T., is an innovative approach to parish-wide Faith Formation that is taking hold in parishes across the United States and Canada.  We believe that this approach creates a parish community of learning by creating life-long faith formation that is centered in the events of church life, for example, liturgy, sacraments, and scripture.

G.I.F.T. embraces all ages and generations, promotes faith growth at home through parish preparation programs and more importantly through participation in church life.


Frequently Asked Questions:

What is Growing In Faith Together — G.I.F.T.?
G.I.F.T. is our religious education program at St. Patrick Church.  It is a parish-wide, intergenerational, life-long faith formation program.
  • Parish-wide:  We welcome and encourage everyone in the parish to participate.

  • Intergenerational:  People of all ages are needed to make G.I.F.T. successful.  G.I.F.T. is not only for school-aged children and their parents; it is, also, for grandparents, teens who have made their confirmation, young adults, parishioners without children, to name a few — G.I.F.T. is for everyone.

  • Life-long:  Our faith is not something we learn as children and, once we make our Confirmation, are done learning.  Like most things in life, as we continue to mature, we need to learn continually.  This is so important because as we travelthrough life we continue to evolve spiritually.  How we approached life and made decisions as a sixteen-year-old is very different than how we approach life as a young adult, parent, grandparent, etc.

  • Faith Formation:  Our faith is not something we learn in religious education class once a week as a school-aged child.  It is something that we continue to “form” as we experience life.  Growing In Faith Together is an approach to parish-wide faith formation that embraces all ages and generations.  It promotes the growth of faith at home, through parish preparation programs, and more importantly through participation in church life.
This all sounds good and fun, but will we really learn something?
We realize that all this talk about learning as a diverse group of people resembles when catechesis was entirely focused on providing a positive experience but with little content or understanding of this experience.  Although this might describe your own encounter with experiential learning, this learning method has been further developed and improved since that time.  In fact, experiential learning in an intergenerational format is recognized as the best and most appropriate method for achieving the goals of faith formation: to inform, to form, and transform people so that their faith may be a living, outward, and fruitful faith.
What about the sacramental preparation programs?

Preparation programs for the celebration of the sacraments of Reconciliation, Eucharist, and Confirmation will continue as separate, but connected, programs.  Preparation for first Reconciliation & Eucharist will continue as home programs.  Preparation for Confirmation will be led by a team of catechists with most sessions being held on Sunday afternoons.

Will the children learn the basics?

We cannot speak to whether a child will or will not learn the basics since, as you are well aware, this depends to a great extent on whether the family is engaged in their faith beyond attendance in the faith formation program because faith is an integral part of family home life.  What we can speak to is our continuing to teach the basics and doing so in a spiral manner through a variety of medium.  That is, the central themes of our faith will be repeated each year, from different perspectives, in greater depth, at age-appropriate levels.

Is this enough?

Our catechetical experience teaches us that “enough” faith formation depends to a much greater extent on the role and place of faith in the individual home than on weekly class attendance in a religious education program.  We want to build on this truth and empower families to weave faith and the practice of faith into their family life.  G.I.F.T. enables individuals and families to connect faith and their everyday lives.

What will happen to the children who don’t come to Mass, whose parents won’t do the home piece with them?

We believe the concern here is that children in this situation will be worse off because they will go from weekly Church contact to monthly Church contact.  Although the frequency of meetings will decrease, we believe the parental involvement in faith formation, even if occurring only at the monthly sessions, has the potential to impact the faith development of a child or adolescent to a greater extent than more frequent religious education class with little parental involvement.

What will happen if a family misses a session?

Missing a session on account of illness or other family emergency is bound to happen and we recognize the concern for this given that sessions will only be once a month.  However, we need to remember two key principles:  First, the sessions constitute only a piece of the whole process of faith formation and, of course, the entire process works best when all the elements are in place; missing one session a year will not endanger the overall faith formation of your family.  Second, the curriculum is a spiral curriculum, meaning that the theme of the missed session will recur in the near future and you will have another opportunity to participate in a session focusing on this topic.  Please, note, if for some reason you cannot attend the session for which you enrolled, you can attend one of the other sessions that week.

Will it be mandatory for parents to attend with their children?

First of all, the research is clear that when families participate in activities together, children are much more likely to be committed and successful at that activity.  The same is true about religion.  Families where parents make their faith a priority and show it by being involved are much more likely to have children that are committed and involved.  Therefore, the best case scenario is when the entire family attends G.I.F.T. sessions together, children, mother, and father.

We realize, however, situations will occur in which this is impossible — parents may have to work, parents might not see the value to coming to a faith formation session — in which case a responsible adult who is involved in the child’s life, such as a grandparent, another relative, a godparent, or a family friend may attend in the parent’s place.

How can we handle everyone that wants to participate?

We offer seven sessions per month on different days and at different times in order to accommodate everyone.  As we are limited to the number of people we can accommodate on any given day, we ask people to sign up for a specific session.  However, if for some reason a family needs to change the session in a particular month, that is perfectly fine.  We ask that you call the faith formation office to inform the staff of the change.

What happens if one of the parents is not Catholic?

Non-Catholic parents are equally welcome to participate in G.I.F.T. if they are interested in being involved in this manner.  If, however, a non-Catholic parent is not interested in participating, this does not preclude the rest of the family from doing so.

What about single parent families?

This is a great program for single parents.  To name but a few benefits:  a meal with no cooking or cleaning, all the children together in one place, the opportunity for the parent to speak with other adults, a simplified schedule that decreases the amount of "running around", ready to use ideas of meaningful activities to do at home when boredom strikes or the TV-watching quota has been reached.

Aren’t we expecting too much of parents?

If parents really want to raise their children in the Catholic faith and they are coming to the church seeking help and guidance with this matter, our responsibility is to give them the best advice and help that we have learned from Church wisdom and the experience of those who have succeeded in this venture.  Both Church teaching and our human experience point to the truth that raising children in the Catholic faith cannot be a separate extracurricular activity but needs to be an integral piece of family life.  We do not expect a family that has not been integrating faith into their life to suddenly do so when they begin the program; but the program is designed to teach such families ways they can begin to do so and provide them with ideas, suggestions, materials and support to enable them to succeed.

Why aren’t we using the classroom model like most churches use and the traditional way we used to do religious education?

Actually the intergenerational whole community model we use, what we call G.I.F.T., is the method that has been used for thousands of years to teach people about Christianity and Catholicism and to help families grow in faith.  The drop-off and pick-up model of religious education classes has only been widely used since World War II.  The Church’s thinking was that classroom sessions arranged by age worked well for teaching kids reading, writing, and mathematics; why not use it for religion?

The fact of the matter is that the classroom model for religion has not proven to be very successful, for a variety of reasons. Therefore St. Patrick and hundreds of churches across the United States and Canada have decided to return to our “roots”.  We are not implying that people have not worked hard enough or been doing a good job through the classroom model.  Rather, the structure of the program, regardless of how hard we work, is not necessarily communicating or supporting what we believe our catechetical ministry is about.  We often focus on the content of religious education and forget that the method and structure also teach.  Ideally, the method and structure serve to reinforce and support what is taught through the content of the program so that they are working together in communicating one single message.

What is the catechetical vision we are trying to communicate both explicitly and implicitly?

The six key points of our catechetical vision are:

  • We are a community of followers of Christ
  • Faith formation is a life-long process
  • Parents are the primary sharers of faith with their children
  • Participation in the worship and life of the church is essential
  • Faith should be integrated into our lives and not a separate activity
  • Our faith should inform and guide our actions

Why isn’t the structure of classroom programs as well suited to supporting and communicating this catechetical vision?

If we are honest in looking at what the structure of the classroom program communicates, we cannot deny that the message given is that faith formation ends in the tenth grade; that the overall goal of faith formation is Confirmation; that parental involvement is welcome and encouraged but structurally only supported through occasional communications, meetings, and interactions; and, that despite our attempts to emphasize the importance of participation in the life and worship of the community, the structural support for and connection between catechesis and worship is a weak one.

Why is the Growing in Faith Together approach better suited to achieving our catechetical goals?

By gathering the community to engage in faith formation, we communicate that faith formation is a life-long process because people of all ages are engaged in this pursuit and that we are a community of disciples because we all come together to learn from the Master.  By directing our catechetical activity toward preparation for participation in the community’s life and worship we establish a clear connection between catechesis and liturgy and structurally support such participation.  By expecting parental involvement at the sessions and at home we communicate both the primary role of parents in their children’s faith formation and support the process of integration of faith into our family life.

Is our program better?

Absolutely.  Not only is our G.I.F.T. program better, but, more importantly, this program strengthens our families and thereby strengthen our community.

How will my child benefit?  How will my family benefit?  How will I benefit?

There are many benefits to your children and to your family as a whole. To name a few:  meet more neighbors and parishioners with whom you worship at Sunday Mass, spend time together as a family engaged in a meaningful activity, have all your children come for faith formation on the same date and time, learn first-hand what your child is hearing and learning about our faith, grow in your own faith, learn and develop new family faith traditions.


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