CFLE in Context: Family Life Education in a Faith-Based Organization
For me, developing family life (CFLE) skills has not been the stuff of one seamless novel, with a cohesive beginning and end. Rather it has been a series of emotions, trials and errors, and considered reflections cobbled together – all yearning to be good stories. Often I feel the process is more like loose adjectives longing for nouns to modify. But, at other times, I am an adverb at home with the verbs I enjoy being around (and it seemed like they enjoyed having me around as well).
My professional career has been entirely within faith-based organizations. I have done consulting with many other agencies and served as a trainer for several organizations, but my primary employer has been the Catholic Church. For the sake of this essay, I will name some of the places where my family life skills adverb-ed my work in my last two positions.
From 1993 till 2003 I served as the Family Life Minister for the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. In that position I was hired to resource churches in 16 counties in northeast Wisconsin in the fields of marriage and family life. My primary task areas were marriage preparation, marriage education, parenting education, and advocacy. By my term's end I added high school relationship education to that list. My primary service targets were members of Roman Catholic Churches in that region. I offered direct presentations, program design and management, consultancy and advocacy. In addition I worked with community-based groups and coalitions in the region, as well as served on governmental and cross-denominational boards and committees. We experimented with different delivery systems hitching our ideas to state wide campaigns, web pages, conferences, retreats and publishing.
In the arena of parenting education, I established my niche in parenting adolescents. I traveled my service area providing a wide variety of presentations in formats that fit the needs of the institutions requesting my assistance. Very often these were simple one-evening presentations, but we also designed 4 – 6 week parenting courses that were well requested. While some of the themes repeated, I made every effort to customize presentations to the differing audiences, making room for questions and dialogue on parenting issues. In my role as a functioning adjective and adverb, I have never had a penchant to act as a preposition for a particular program. My work with adolescents led me into a rewarding affiliation with the Search Institute and Relationship Education for High School Students.
The marriage preparation department was our strongest area. I was blessed with having a staff member who ran five different marriage prep programs that served many hundreds of couples every year. Together we trained the volunteer staff, administered the paperwork and regularly updated the materials, and wrote a brand new program to meet the changing needs of engaged couples. Streams of sentences and paragraphs couldn't exhaust the things we learned in just this one area!
Marriage education was perhaps our most exciting pursuit. We joined a statewide effort to promote healthy marriages for farm couples which was a fun learning experience for me as a city boy. Modifying nouns and verbs, we cobbled together a Friday night date type program for married couples that proved to be a grand success.
Advocacy for marriage and family life was a major part of the position. I confess to enjoying the politics involved. We implemented strategies locally, regionally, statewide and nationally. I published a regular column in the regional newspaper which gave me a venue to speak to families as well as their religious leadership.
Early in my career at the Diocese of Green Bay I sought and earned my CFLE designation. I believe I was "grandfathered-in" just a couple years before I actually became a grandfather. (Editor's note: Tom applied through the "Experience Recognition" window which was a grandfathering of sorts).
In 2003, I left the Green Bay position to move to Florida to become a caregiver to my parents. In the transfer I found a position on a congregational level, again in the Roman Catholic Church. There I became the Director of Family Faith Formation, responsible for the organization, curriculum and administration of the religious education programming of the church. A unique aspect of the religious education programming in this parish was the high priority given to parent participation and education. Pre-adolescent programming was family based in content as well as process. Soon I was able to add to that mix intergenerational education which has long been a favorite of mine. (I have been involved in intergenerational education since the 1980's.)
In addition to the intergenerational programming, the depth and scope of the parenting education component increased. I enjoy resourcing parents with developmentally appropriate literature they could read with their children on a variety of topics. We began a parish lending library of these materials. This past year it blossomed into a book study among the parents. Crossing disciplines, the parents and I have discussed many times the proper development sequencing in terms of faith formation, moral reasoning, prayer and biblical literature. Due to this congregation's cultural diversity our discussions on family ritual have been extraordinarily lively! Discussions have covered rituals that celebrate key religious transitions and developmental markers, as well as seasonal celebrations.
This particular church is also a student center for the University of Florida which affects every aspect of our ministry. The majority of volunteers in our programming are university students and this sets up interesting relationship dynamics for the students and the families who are members of our congregation. A considerable amount of my energy is expended "in the background" making connections and working on relationship skills. I do a lot of skill development with UF students which is in form teacher education, but in substance is relationship education.
These two scenarios are a brief description of places where my background as a family life educator has been a part of my work within a faith-based institution. Of course, I also bring to this work a background in theology and education, as well as lengthy experience as a husband, father and now grandfather. There is, within my denomination, a strong body of literature that stresses the importance of family life to our church. I have just returned from a workshop on Youth Ministry which emphasized repeatedly how important family faith formation is in the path of life long religious learning and spiritual development. Within the Roman Catholic Church, in the past 35+ years, I have had the pleasure of being involved in some amazingly creative work on behalf of healthy successful families. I am grateful for the opportunity, and look forward to continuing an active role as adverb and adjective in the future of family life education in faith-based settings.
Tom Rinkoski, M.Ed., CFLE, is a Husband (married 31 years), Father (3 children who are no longer children but young adults in 20's), Grandfather (an array of three 5 years old and under, with #4 on the way), Professional Storyteller, and Caregiver to Parents (Alzheimer's). He is currently employed at St. Augustine Church in Gainesville, FL as Director of Education.