What's in a name?
Around the year 2000, when I was first looking for a term to describe the methods that we were finding effective at camp* to teach the faith there seemed to be an obvious choice: Experiential Catechesis. This seemed like a simple phrase to use which was quite natural. After all, we were using the methods of experiential education for catechetical purposes. As a college student I contemplated this and looked to see who else I could find using this approach. After some research, I found that this term already had been discussed for quite some time.
Experiential Catechetics, as was discussed in the '60's and '70's, I saw was something quite different from what we were using. Experiential catechetics assumed that for someone to be taught a concept about the faith we must first work from their own experiences and/or the secular experiences happening in the world around them. Practically, part of this idea is involves us looking at the world around us and then teaching from what the student see. This approach eliminates sequential or systematic study. One can debate the pros and cons of this concept, but it surely isn't what we were doing.
I agree with the idea that we learn best when it resonates with our experiences, though, I prefer to take a pro-active approach. If we want to teach about the concept of forgiveness, or love, or grace, etc. we don't need to wait until we know that there is a touchstone in the person's life that we can reference before we can talk about it with them ... we can provide such a moment. So much of ministry is providing such experiences.
On a retreat, for example, we set the stage for people to have conversion moments - encounters with the living God. Our liturgies are intentionally designed to bring people into a divine encounter. When you perform a work of mercy, you are offering a chance for the other person to interact with God's mercy. When you send someone a simple note, you provide a touchstone of caring and love in their life. As ministers, I would liken us to God's event planners. Not only because of the obvious connection that we set up a lot of events, but more than that. An event planner seeks to understand the purpose a host has for a function and cater everything towards that singular reason. The location, the lighting, the music, the guest list, the food - every detail is painstakingly laid out to guide the guest toward the intentions of the host. We, as ministers, don't merely wait for the people of God to have experiences and then talk with them about what happened, we warmly invite people into experiences that were intentionally designed with them in mind.
As I reflected on this, I saw that the term 'experiential catechesis' simply wasn't going to work. At camp, the experiences we were inviting people into were exciting and out of the ordinary because the God we wanted to introduce them to is invigorating and quite extraordinary. We were inviting the young people into nothing less than and adventure that, for some, is the first step into their eternity. Thus ... Adventure Catechesis was born.
This installment's activity is called "Knot or Not" and is one of my favorite quick go-to's.
Knot or Not opens up conversations about relativism, what works and what doesn't when trying to convince someone of something they don't agree with, it's never to late to admit when you are wrong and ask forgiveness, the balance between taking care of yourself and helping the group, rash judgements, and so much more.
This article is part of a series on adventure catechesis. Check out the others in the series:
You're Already Doing it
Learning Happens with the Second Question
Behold the Power of Story!
This series is written by Shawn Madden from components of a potential forthcoming book.