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Symbolon training offers education for educators

By RENEE WEBB, Globe senior reporter
(Email Renee)

A diocesan-wide adult faith formation and RCIA leadership training conference was held last month in Sioux City.

Symbolon: The Catholic Faith Explained, offered through the Augustine Institute in Denver, was sponsored by the Office of New Evangelization as a way to help teach the faith to those who teach others. Ideally, it was designed to have the faith opened up in a way that helps them know it, live it and articulate it to others.

According to Sean Martin, diocesan director of new evangelization, to initially get the word out about the training, two representatives from the Augustine Institute spoke at Clergy Day to convey how Symbolon tied in with the new evangelization.

About 70 people participated in the training held Aug. 8-10 at St. Michael Church with attendees coming from about 30 parishes. Twelve deacons, four priests, two sisters and representatives from Dubuque, Lincoln and Texas were among the participants.

“We had four speakers who put on keynote presentations and breakout workshops in RCIA and adult faith formation,” said Martin, who was one of the speakers.

In addition to the two-and-one-half day training, there will be nine months of webinars and online resources available.

Several parishioners from Blessed Sacrament Church in Sioux City attended the training.

Molly Sokolowski, a member of Blessed Sacrament’s adult faith formation team, attended the training and said the team is already using some practices they learned from Symbolon.

She found the training to be well-organized and liked how the lessons were broken down into sections they could connect with.

“We are studying the ‘Our Hearts were Burning’ document by the U.S. bishops and we are studying Bishop (Walker) Nickless’ pastoral letter in addition to what we learned from Symbolon to help firm and ground us as we move forward,” Sokolowski said. “We’ve met four times since the gathering and it has given us a good structure to follow. We are grateful for the opportunity to take advantage of this and hopefully apply it in the parish.”

Renee Beacom, a parishioner at Blessed Sacrament, attended it on her own to learn more. She had liked the fact that Bishop Nickless supported the program and arranged for it to come to the diocese.

“The training is geared to forming parish leaders to implement a program of adult faith formation in the parish and I had thought I could contribute something to that in some way in Blessed Sacrament Parish,” she said. “I am now a member of the adult faith formation team.”

Beacom called Symbolon a comprehensive program “for handing the truth of the faith to adults in the parish.

It’s geared to people of various ages and levels of faith development. It looks like there is something for everyone. It looks like it will be a great program.”

There will be another Symbolon in-person follow-up day on Feb. 21 at St. Michael in Sioux City.

Martin noted that it was important to the Augustine Institute to provide ongoing formation and the availability to answer questions.

“If you pack so much information into a weekend and then that’s it, there isn’t as much opportunity for growth,” he said. “I think giving time to be shaped and formed is the idea behind it. This training isn’t just about giving a little bit of information, it’s about formation in doing adult faith formation and formation in doing RCIA. That takes time.”

While the Diocese of Sioux City has a one-year commitment with the Augustine Institute, Martin anticipates the partnership will continue.

“Our hope is that this is just the beginning. We don’t want it to stop after the year, so I’m sure we will do other types of formation for both RCIA and adult formation,” said Martin, who noted these ministries are very important to Bishop Nickless. In the bishop’s pastoral letter he wrote about the importance of having strong catechesis and evangelization. “It’s important that we do things well, and in order to do them well, we need to know how to do them and be trained properly.”

For parishes that were unable to send people to this training, Symbolon does provide a training video series. In addition, Martin said the diocese’s new assistant director of adult catechesis and family life, Fred Shellabarger, will be available to offer consultation to parishes.

“My hope is that we are going to continue to see solid evangelization and adult catechesis come from the parishes,” Martin said. “My hope is that we will see an influx of adults who are on fire for their faith and who have deepened their love for the Lord and his church. I think the fruits will be many.”


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