I just returned from Synod School, an annual gathering organized by the Lakes and Prairies Synod of the Presbyterian Church. Designed for clergy, individual and families, this is a week of classes for adults and activities for kids, morning and evening worship, and some fun evening activities. I was there teaching a course on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius – which generated a lot of interest. I enjoyed the class I taught, found the evening worship moving, and enjoyed the fellowship (and the games….and tie-dying a T-shirt, a Synod School tradition).
Part of my interest – besides the facts that I’m always happy to introduce folks to St. Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises and that I’d have the opportunity to spend time with some folks I don’t get to see very often – is the fact that many Catholic churches suspend most or all faith formation (adult and child) during the summer. How is it, I wondered, that the Presbyterian church could gather 500-600 folks every summer for a week of deepening faith and fellowship? (There were 548 adults and children there this year; 41 of those adults took the course I taught.)
I think part of it is organization. No Catholic diocese is the size of the Lakes and Prairies Synod, so a gathering like this – offering choice of 70 or so courses divided over four periods in the day, multiple activities for children, art and other activities outside of class, daily convocation talks and worship – would be a massive undertaking not possible for a single diocese. And it is hard to imagine two nearby dioceses working together to do it. In addition, such an undertaking requires a massive financial commitment, including funding a Synod School office that operates year round to organize all of this and other associated costs.
Clearly Synod School is not something that could be replicated by the Catholic Church. Still, it is hard not to wish for more programming that is more than what a single parish can accomplish. (I say that notwithstanding the fact that my own parish offers some great summer faith formation opportunities.). We can do better than we are currently.