Andrew Edmonds, Director of Presbyterian Youth Victoria.
The Catechism Experience: Helping a generation to become firm in the faith.
Spurgeon said, “I am persuaded that the use of a good Catechism in all our families will be a great safeguard against the increasing errors of the times, and therefore I have compiled this little manual from the Westminster Assembly’s and Baptist Catechisms, for the use of my own church and congregation. Those who use it in their families or classes must labour to explain the sense; but the words should be carefully learned by heart, for they will be understood better as years pass. May the Lord bless my dear friends and their families evermore, is the prayer of their loving Pastor”. The Prince of Preachers clearly saw the use of Catechism as critically important to discipleship in his ministry context, but what about ours? Is this practice archaic and simply outdated, or could it still serve as a safeguard against the errors of our day too?
Presbyterians have a long history of using the Westminster Shorter Catechism, and in Victoria we have a fantastic opportunity to help people young and old learn not just learn wrote doctrine by heart, but engage doctrinal truth with heart felt meaning, and to do this through a shared relational context. This year CENC (Christian Education and Nurture Committee) and PYV (Presbyterian Youth Victoria) launched the ‘Catechism Experience’ in a new format. This past July participants started to receive the book called ‘Firm In The Faith’ by Dennis Hustedt in the mail and joined an online closed group on the Faithlife platform (faithlife.com). As of the time of writing there are over 100 participants signed up to learn in this format. Both the book and the online group provide a unique Catechism learning community for children, youth and adults. Together individuals and families have been sharing insights and posting creative photos, media, and reflections in response to the truth they are learning over the 12 weeks of the Catechism.
The Firm In The Faith book is an instructional resource that guides discussion and aids understanding, serving to reinforce the truth of the Catechism. Participants use it in a way that works best for their situation, and its content can be spread over the days of the week or done all in one go that week. It’s great to hear that families having been using it each evening at the dinner table, helping each other to memorise and understand the truths presented. There are also leader/parent notes at the back of the book that assist those leading the discussion. I think it’s appropriate to note that this resource has been endorsed on its back cover by the ‘Australian Presbyterian’ calling it, ‘… a splendid piece of work… it is highly recommended’. The book is in four sections and this year we are using the first section called ‘Christian Basics’. Lord willing, the other three sections will be used over the next three years in the same format.
The challenge for the participants is to work through the 12 weeks of the Catechism Experience and learn from the questions and answers by the Melbourne Cup holiday on November 3rd. After the Experience has closed for the year on Cup Day, the efforts of children and youth who engaged in the experience will be assessed and rewarded. I am already greatly encouraged by the sense of sharing that the online interaction fosters between the participants. People don’t feel like they are the only ones learning the material, but that they have Catechism Comrades all over the State of Victoria.
The goal for the Catechism Experience is that it would foster spiritual growth in individuals and families, and that generations now and later would benefit by becoming firm in the faith.
“if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard…” (Colossians 1:23a, ESV)
This article was originally published in the Spring 2020 edition of “Fellow Workers” , the quarterly magazine of the Presbyterian Church of Victoria.