More than 100 people from across the Arlington Diocese gathered Sept. 15 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Vienna for the FORMED Evangelization Training Conference to learn ways to incorporate the video and audio series into their parishes, schools and other ministries.
FORMED, an online tool for Catholic study, features audio presentations, e-books and movies designed to help users learn more about the faith. About two-thirds of parishes and all four diocesan high schools in the Arlington Diocese have subscribed, according to John Knutsen, diocesan coordinator for Evangelization and Adult Faith Formation.
“We're really excited about it,” said Tracy Sivak, director of religious education atSt. Elizabeth of Hungary Church in Colonial Beach and St. Anthony of Padua Mission in King George. “Just to get people out at nighttime is difficult because it's really rural. We think it will be very beneficial.”
Sivak said they hoped to start Bible study at the parish using the Opening the Word program that offers thoughts on the Sunday Scriptures.
“I'm going to invite people to connect with the liturgy a little more,” she said.
Mary Therrell, the principal of St. Ann Catholic School in Arlington, attended the conference because she recognizes the importance of adult faith formation, along with teaching the faith to students.
“Part of what you're supposed to do at Catholic schools is also help facilitate religious education or faith formation for families,” said Therell. “I want to be able to do that better and help facilitate some adult education for parents. I'm hoping the workshop will inform me on how to get that started.”
“FORMED is a unique tool that allows parishes to reach people where they're at through digital media,” said Lucas Pollice, director of program development and implementation and professor of theology and catechetics for the Augustine Institute, which launched FORMED. The institute offers academic and parish programs to help the formation of Catholics for the New Evangelization.
FORMED is also an outreach tool.
“A parish subscription is for anybody in the parish boundary, Catholic and non-Catholic, so it's even an opportunity to do outreach beyond the parish,” said Pollice. “It's meeting a real need to evangelize in this digital age.”
With 24/7 access, Pollice said the parish doesn't have to wait for people to come to them but can meet people where they are. He said one parish sent postcards to all the people within their boundaries, Catholic or not, and invited them to use FORMED and to check out the parish.
Sean Dalton, director of parish evangelization for the Augustine Institute, spoke to the participants about being missionary disciples.
“If we are going to become a church of missionary disciples, we have to have a bit of a mindset shift in the way we think as Catholics,” he said. “We have to start thinking outreach. Outreach is really the reason we created FORMED and made an enormous investment of time and resources because now the fullness of faith is accessible to anyone.”
Dalton said so many Catholics don't know what they've been missing and it's the job of missionary disciples to help them understand.
Dan Donaldson, director of sales and strategic partnerships for the Augustine Institute, gave the participants a broad tour of the FORMED tools available. He said more than 2,000 parishes nationwide use FORMED. When he asked the group if they had experience with the program, more than half raised their hand. He also told the participants local tech support is available to help solve any difficulties with the program.
Knutsen said he was pleased with the day and the turnout.
“Well over 100 key leaders from 34 parishes took a full day out of their packed September schedules to be there, traveling from all points of the diocese, including Woodstock and King George. The Augustine Institute presenters offered strong, substantive presentations on the importance of evangelization and the outstanding opportunities the church has to use modern technology and media to that end.
“For those parishes that have already made the decision to subscribe to Formed, it provided a great opportunity to start brainstorming about how they'll use it across their many ministries, while those still undecided received a dynamic overview of what it is and what it can do for a parish,” he added.