ST. PAUL, Minn. (CNS) — One-size-fits-all faith formation programs don’t exist, but a new online platform called FORMED has taken a serious stab at providing a wealth of resources to fit with parishioners’ hectic lives.
“Not everybody has the time to be able to sign up for a multiweek series or be able to come to the parish because they work or they have different schedules,” said Andy Wagenbach, co-director of faith formation and youth ministry at St. Peter Parish in North St. Paul. Through FORMED, “they can do these things at their house. The fruit of that is that they’re able to still be formed even though they’re not able to come on site.”
Forty parishes in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have been offering the program since it launched in 2015. At the website www.formed.org, FORMED provides a one-stop shop of formation materials ranging from videos to Catholic Church documents to help adults, youth and families grow in their faith. The program was created by the Augustine Institute in Denver, which has provided both faith formation and theological education since 2004.
“It’s meant to be in every home within the parish, really empowering, enabling parishioners to take ownership of their own formation so that the great teachings of the Catholic Church aren’t confined to a parish program,” said Annie Grandell, YDisciple coordinator for the Augustine Institute.
“YDisciple,” or Young Disciple, is an online platform the institute said it designed to help parents and parishes work together to reach more teens more effectively with the Gospel.
Grandell became familiar with FORMED while using the Augustine Institute’s YDisciple program as the youth minister for St. Michael and St. Mary parishes in Stillwater. YDisciple provides online material for small groups of youths to grow in their faith, and it is now among the resources at FORMED.
St. Peter also has used YDisciple through FORMED for youths and the St. Peter Catholic School students in grades five through eight. Families in the St. Peter’s young family ministry also use FORMED talks at home, and they discuss them at the ministry’s gatherings.
FORMED draws from a wealth of Catholic resources such as Ignatius Press and Catholic Lighthouse Media. Its content provides a boon for sacramental preparation, which is how St. Michael Parish in Farmington has used the program. Kathy Ruhland, the parish’s director of faith formation, said the parish has found it valuable.
She said one family asked to watch and discuss a FORMED video on confession together for a child’s make-up lesson, even though parent participation wasn’t required. Ruhland didn’t hesitate to grant permission, “because the goal is to have families embrace this and talk about it as a family (and) have it bolster their faith,” she told The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Wagenbach said he has seen FORMED build marriages, since couples can watch and discuss videos. Some of the couples who went through FORMED’s “Beloved” series on marriage shared with him that “it was kind of the first time in their marriage that they had actually done a series together as a couple. Some of them had been married eight to 10 years.”
While FORMED has content for children, youths and families, it doesn’t stop there. Ruhland said most of the content works for adult faith formation. Last fall, St. Michael hosted a Bible study on the Eucharist using FORMED content. However, parishes would like to see more Catholics using the program. Parishes pay $1,680 per year to give every parishioner access to the site.
St. Michael in Farmington has 284 subscribers. St. Peter is up to 350, after encouraging parishioners to try it during Lent and Advent.
Ruhland and Wagenbach said there’s been good feedback so far. “I think the biggest thing (for participants) is just realizing that instead of maybe watching Netflix, they can watch something about their faith,” Wagenbach said.
Davis is on the staff of The Catholic Spirit, newspaper of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.