For parents, there is no better invitation to life in the Church than a space prepared beautifully and intentionally for their children. A parish atrium is that invitation. The atrium is a home for children in the Church, designed to nurture their spiritual needs by responding to their capacities for work and for prayer.
Guidelines for opening an atrium in your own parish.
Step One: Speak with your Pastor
Pastors who have experienced the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd know that parish CGS programs instill habits of stewardship. The atrium draws a vibrant community around itself that gives life to many parish ministries. Talk with your pastor about how a CGS program might live in your parish. Your pastor can guide you on how best to approach the parish community, invite volunteers, identify a space for the atrium, support catechist formation and raise funds for materials.
Consider inviting the Archdiocese’s CGS Coordinator or an experienced catechist capable of addressing the many practical concerns of starting an atrium to participate in this conversation with your pastor or to speak to your parish council.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd in a Parish Setting is also a wonderful reference book for pastors and catechists alike and can guide these initial conversations.
Step Two: Catechist Formation
The most important aspect of the prepared environment is the prepared adult. A committed and prepared catechist, ideally several, is essential to a parish CGS program. In CGS formation, catechists are not trained in a method; they are spiritually prepared to listen to God with children.
In the Archdiocese of Toronto, we offer formation in Levels I, II, and III of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. For more information on catechist formation throughout Canada, please contact the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd Association of Canada.
Step Three: Formation of a CGS Community
Essential to every parish CGS program is a group of individuals united by friendship and prayer. We encourage you to begin assembling a group of volunteers a year in advance of opening your level 1 atrium. Use this year for formation, to begin preparing the atrium space, and to begin making materials. Invite parents to participate in the preparations that are being made. Consider organizing a book club to read The Religious Potential of the Child or The Good Shepherd and the Child: A Joyful Journey. Invite parents whose children have recently been baptized.
Parents who experience the impact of this catechesis on children will prove to be the mainstay of the program. In order to provide this opportunity for their children, parents become catechists, establish atriums, make catechetical materials and remain actively involved for several years. The extended parish community also helps sustain this work by its nurturing and welcoming response, prayer, fundraising and sharing of their gifts (eg carpentry skills) to meet the needs of the programme.
Step Four: Assess your Financial Needs
This catechesis is financially feasible for any parish and can vary greatly from parish to parish depending on the time and capacities of the volunteers, as well as the parish's resources. Minimum costs relate to preparation of the room that will be the atrium, making of the catechetical materials and supporting the training and formation of catechists.
Step Five: Preparation of the Atrium
Work with your pastor and other parish ministry teams to identify a space for the atrium. Some parishes are able to provide the ideal space – a room set aside exclusively for the children. Other parishes must find creative ways to share space with other ministries. Atria have been found in a parish sacristy, in a choir loft, and even in the space underneath the stairs!
Step Six: Preparation of the Catechetical Materials
One of the chief features of this catechesis is the use of specially designed biblical and liturgical materials to help the children's prayer and meditation. These materials help the children to read an environment replete with signs of God’s love for us and his desire to be in relationship with us. The catechetical materials are usually handmade by the catechists, with the help of the parish community; this is a a way of involving others in the ministry of catechesis and building the parish’s CGS community. For example, in one parish the maturing adults volunteered to produce the materials; in another the shop teacher and class provided the woodworking in yet another, the Knights of Columbus helped to prepare the atrium environment.
For more information about opening an atrium at your parish or to set up a meeting with your pastor or parish council, please contact the CGS office for the Archdiocese of Toronto.