The Less than Optimal Atrium

February 2019

by Catherine Maresca

We offered a local Round Table last week to discuss “The Less than Optimal Atrium.” I was amazed by the interest – folks offered to host it in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, Washington DC, and Virginia — and a catechist in Alaska asked for a “report.” So this month’s CCT in Context is an offering from the 20 catechists and guests in attendance. I invited those in an optimal atrium to introduce themselves first, but there were no takers!

Rebekah Rojcewicz wrote in the CGSUSA journal (December 2018) about her experience as a catechist from her introduction to CGS, to formation in Rome, to 15 years of experience at Christian Family Montessori School in DC, to various atria in Memphis TN, to her current work in one of the Missionaries of Charity atriums there. It is in this last atrium especially that she has found an abundance of blessings juxtaposed to difficult circumstances. With children attending irregularly it is impossible to plan one day of presentations, much less a 3-year cycle. But the children’s desire to come, their love of work, and the opportunity to be with God in the sacred space and time overcome the challenges presented. As I shared some of Rebekah’s words there were affirming nods around the room. CGS is a powerful seed even in inhospitable soil. 

We went on to explore our issues in pairs, assigning each challenge to one of the following categories:      

Barriers – these are not problems we can solve but circumstances that are part of our reality, at least for the current year. We need not give them any effort at this time, and can put our time and effort to better use in other areas.

Big problems with big solutions – i.e. we need more space and to get it we need to build a building! We may or may not be able to address this problem in the current year. We may feel ready to take on a challenge like this after doing all we can in our current space (or circumstances) and building support for CGS in the community.

Big problems with incremental solutions – i.e. we need more trained catechists! Workshops, monthly meetings, or sending one person to a course every year are achievable goals.

Low hanging fruit – tasks that are easily done that will make a good difference such as cleaning out a storage cupboard, or repairing a material. 

Following this we discussed space, materials, formation, time, and institutional support in more detail, sharing difficulties along with ideas. Frustrations shared and good ideas multiplied generated joy and enthusiasm in the group.

A highlight of this discussion was Davette Himes’ recent success with deepening the “catechist bench.” She got an extrovert with a clipboard to sign up adults at coffee hour to come to the atrium for 20 minutes of observation. Some of these folks enjoyed the time enough to come again, to be substitutes or assistants, or to offer support on the vestry. 

Kate Kappes, who attended from CT(!) wrote to me the next day, “I was stunned yesterday to hear from so many voices, words such as, ‘The upstairs where the adults learn is beautiful, the children are in a dark basement with mold.’  ‘Children arrive (at Sunday School) without their parents.’  ‘The parents said they don’t want to help because they need a break from their kids.’  ‘The children are in Sunday School because the parents don’t want to take them to church.’  ‘There are no more children in that parish.’….and more.” This too, is part of the context of our work, and it was good to be able to freely voice this in an appropriate setting. Certainly there was a spirit of encouragement at work among us. We have a shared hope of connecting children and their parents to the love of the Good Shepherd.

Finally, the catechists named a “next step” or focus for themselves and shared this with the group. These included sustainability, replace tired materials, empower parents as the primary catechists of their own children, develop institutional support, and reach out to children with disabilities. Despite our less than optimal atriums, we persevere to share this amazing gift with children. 

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