The value of religious education regional meetings was not something that was immediately obvious to a new Director of Religious Education, like I was some 25 years ago. It seemed enough of a task for me just to settle into a single parish and try to pick up where the previous Director left off. Why bother with what was going on in religious education in other parishes in my area? It was only because I was invited and then urged by my pastor to join a cluster of religious education directors drawn from my geographic area that I was introduced to all the good that can come from the sharing of pooled resources in religious education.
While many cluster meetings over my nearly 25 years of involvement started out with the typical coffee and goodies, once everyone had arrived and been physically nourished we moved on to the more important aspect of our gathering. Cluster meetings for me became a time to listen to, and share my own, adventures in ministry. Each Director present had his or her own specialty, so meetings became a place to share the kinds of teaching tools, techniques and ideas that had worked for you. And new ideas abounded. As the years passed we became so tuned in to one another’s needs that we took to providing written outlines of the activities and approaches we shared orally. We gave each other the names of video resources to use and in some cases to avoid.
The value of religious education regional meetings was further enhanced by the fact that as we grew together and developed a sensitivity to one another we found we could open up to the group and share not just our successes but also our failures and our concerns. More often than not a meeting would feature not only a wonderful idea for a grade level project but also a concern aired about an issue like the lack of diocesan contracts for religious education professionals. The surprise was that we so often hit the bull’s eye in more than one respect. What we offered by way of religious education techniques usually matched someone’s need for a new project and what was noted as one person’s irritant was often recognized as an issue plaguing us all.
The value of religious education regional meetings, especially in small clusters of perhaps 10-20 members is that there is ample opportunity to receive and discuss religious education information coming out of the larger diocesan religious education office. Notices of upcoming training and enrichment events, new resources available at the central office and national or multi state conferences were always aired. Frequently we were even visited by representatives of the central office. Because we were all in the same room at the same time and had our personal calendars on hand we often saved time by making arrangements right there to attend meetings together. Newer cluster members were always included and encouraged to join in whatever car pooling was available and as a result were drawn in to the wider diocesan offerings.
One of the most memorable aspects of religious education regional meetings was certainly the monthly topical presentation. Usually the focal point of each meeting agenda, topical presentations were offered by members of the cluster or invited religious education professionals. For about 20 minutes we would hear from someone who had particular expertise on a given subject which could be anything from prayer to teaching children with special needs. This focus kept the group from the obvious possibility of deteriorating into a gripe group. No matter what else we might be talking about, we all seemed pleased to center on what the day’s presenter had to offer and left the wiser for it.
Finally, as you might guess, t the hidden value of religious education regional meetings, in addition to their professional value, is the personal joy that we took in joining together each month. Because we shared the same types of experiences and worked at the same level of authority, we could talk openly with one another guaranteed of receptive and supportive conversational partners. Cluster meetings could just as easily have been named “comfort meetings” because comfort was truly what we all found there. Whether we were sharing approaches to teaching or socializing over coffee before the meeting began, we gave each other carte blanche to be ourselves. Not surprisingly many of these professional relationships often branched out to become personal friendships as well.
The value of religious education regional meetings was something I learned through participation in a religious education cluster of small town Catholic Directors of Religious Education. But the benefits of such regional organization are there to be shared and developed by local leaders working in any faith or denomination. The value of religious education regional meetings was clearly felt by all of us – it made us better at what we did and perhaps a little better people as well.