Lifelong Formation

Religious Education Guidelines

Summer Faith Formation Guidelines—Program Frequency, Off-Campus Field Trips and Retreat Centers

Beginning in Summer 2021, there are no restrictions on how often child and youth cohorts can meet, meaning there will be a resumption in daily programming. Please be sure to follow the 2021 Summer Activities Guidance, open windows for ventilation and utilize outdoor spaces to the extent possible.

Parishes and schools offering summer child and youth programming may offer off-campus experiences in accordance with the following guidelines:

  • The parish or school sponsoring the off-campus experience is responsible for ensuring that all archdiocesan COVID-19 health and safety protocols are followed, including required use of masks, physical distancing, handwashing and student cohorts. Please consult the 2021 Summer Activities Guidance.
  • If a third-party vendor is utilized for the experience, the parish or school must follow all requirements for activities operated by third-party vendors, as detailed in the 2021 Summer Activities Guidance.
  • Any bus transportation must follow the required distancing protocols of three feet within a student cohort and six feet outside of a student cohort. If there are multiple cohorts present on a bus, a minimum of 3-4 empty rows should be present between cohorts. Bus windows should be opened to increase ventilation. Individual carpools should not be utilized, however single-family transportation is permitted.
  • Overnight activities are permitted only for students aged sixteen or older and adult volunteers who have been fully vaccinated. All participants and legal guardians must sign and return the following Permission Form and Participation Agreement (PDF).

Please note, this guidance is subject to change depending on the prevailing public health guidance.

Preparing for Fall 2021

Please note the following important announcements regarding child and youth ministries in Fall 2021:

  • As announced in ArchLink, parishes can plan for resumption of full enrollment and in-class programming next year with full observance of all mitigation requirements in place for in-class activities in our Archdiocesan schools. As we progress through the spring and summer and receive any changes to public health guidelines, the COVID Task Force of the archdiocese will provide any necessary guidance.
  • As of now, parishes will not be required to partake in a health and safety certification process to reopen child and youth formation programming in the fall. As always, this guidance may be revised should a significant shift in the public safety situation necessitate that a certification process be re-instituted.
  • Provided that all mitigation requirements can be followed by parish programs, Catholic schools are instructed to resume sharing any typically available classroom space that may have been restricted due to the pandemic. It is encouraged that preliminary discussions around sharing space take place now between school and parish staff and leadership, and that these discussions continue throughout the summer as programming guidelines are updated.

The Lifelong Formation team is planning a Catechetical Leader Town Hall meeting which will take place on Tuesday, May 25 (time TBD) and recorded for those who cannot attend. The goal of this meeting will be to provide general guidance for the fall, pertinent updates that have occurred, faith formation program and planning resources, and to answer questions related to fall programming.

Updated Pandemic Guidelines for Child and Youth Programming

Effective Tuesday, January 19th, parishes certified to offer on-site programming for children and youth have the option to increase the number of meetings per cohort to twice a month. Please note that this option is being granted to provide greater flexibility for parishes to meet the pastoral needs of children, youth and their families. Parishes are not required to increase the number of cohort gatherings from the previous once per month maximum allowance and should not do so if the below protocols cannot be observed or there is no compelling pastoral need to do so.

Please note that for a parish to exercise this option, the following must be in effect:

  • The parish must be certified to offer on-site Religious Ed programming (which includes Youth Ministry). Please consult the Preopening Checklist and Certification document if your parish has not yet been certified for on-site RE programming.
  • The parish pastor must approve any increase in cohort gatherings to twice per month.
  • If any school space is utilized, the school principal must approve the plan to increase the number of cohort gatherings. The parish must follow instructions for Space Sharing with Catholic Schools as detailed on pages 2 and 3 of the Health and Safety Requirements.
  • Continued ability to follow all health and safety guidelines currently in effect, including the Health and Safety Requirements, Infection Protocol and utilization of the Infection Protocol Form for each individual that has notified the parish that they a) have a positive COVID test, b) have COVID symptoms for more than 24 hours and no alternative diagnosis or c) have been in close contact with someone who is COVID positive.
  • The parish must be able to provide all necessary volunteers to comply with the Health and Safety Requirements for on-site programming.

Reopening Framework

The Religious Education and Youth Ministry Program Framework is intended to assist parishes in planning quality, relevant faith formation programming as we navigate a rapidly shifting reality in our world, nation, city and communities. We provide clear options for parish fall programming, and pathways to safely gather the children and youth on our campuses while also limiting the frequency and size of these gatherings in the interest of health and safety. Each parish is asked to thoughtfully discern the frequency and necessity of in-person gathering within their programs. When in-person gatherings do occur, parishes must follow the policies outlined in the Framework for when and how to safely gather young people.

In creating the Framework, the Office of Lifelong Formation carefully studied “Reopening with Trust: A Planning Framework for the 2020/21 School Year” developed by the Office of Catholic Schools, which in turn was crafted in careful consideration of the Transition Joint Guidance document (released on June 23, 2020) issued by the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health. The guidelines within this document apply only to programming for minors (under age 18). Adult faith formation experiences and parent gatherings are subject to the regular guidelines for non-liturgical gatherings.

​​​​​​​There are, however, significant differences between this framework and other parish and school reopening plans, owing to the unique challenges of gathering children and youth who attend multiple schools and consequently interact with student cohorts beyond the parish. On-site gatherings will be permitted less frequently and smaller in size, and virtual or at-home faith formation is encouraged to continue to the fullest extent possible. This Framework will be reassessed ahead of January 2021 in light of the evolving public health situation.

Reopening Teams and Pre-Opening Checklist and Certification

In preparation for the implementation of the Framework, parish catechetical leaders should work with their pastor, school principal, parish youth minister, and the Parish and School Reopening Teams. The purpose of the team is to assist the pastor, parish catechetical leader, and parish youth minister in understanding, planning for, and implementing the requirements of the Archdiocesan Reopening Plan.

  • Parishes must create a Health and Safety Reopening (HSR) Team to be certified for modified in-person programming. If the parish will resume programming virtually but incorporate and in-person kickoff, an HSR Team should be created to plan and manage the kickoff events.
  • Parishes should also form a Faith Formation and Programming (FFP) Team. The purpose of this team is to assist the parish catechetical leader and/or youth minister in planning a flexible and adaptable faith formation program for the 2020/2021 pastoral year.

All Archdiocese of Chicago Parish Religious Education Programs (inclusive of Youth Ministry) must complete specific steps prior to certifying preparedness and receiving approval to reopen on-site components this Fall. Requirements are to be completed by the Health & Safety Reopening Team. Certification for reopening child and youth programs will occur between August 17 and September 4.

Health and Safety Requirements and Infection Protocol

Reopening Teams and RE/YM leaders must review the Health and Safety Guidelines, which include requirements for in-person programming, space sharing with Catholic Schools, the Cohort Model, general facility cleaning, layout and program supplies, and more.

Faith Formation Programming

Through Renew My Church we are called to make disciples, build community and inspire witness. Especially during this time of great uncertainty and turmoil for the individuals, families and communities served by our Church, we must seek new and creative ways to lead them closer to Christ and one another and to share the Gospel as a light to our world. The Framework will serve as a guide toward continuing to build a stronger sense of missionary discipleship through your approach to religious education programming. By continuing to creatively engage your students and families in their own faith journeys, actively building community the Lord intends for your parish, and witnessing the Kingdom of God in the midst of a lost and fearful world, you are helping your parish move forward in answering the call to renew the Church of Jesus Christ.

Virtual Engagement, Communication and Safe Environment

Archdiocesan interim guidelines for virtual safe environment are available here. The Archdiocese continues to evaluate policy changes based on increased use of digital technologies. Welcome feedback to the [email protected] email address regarding any challenges these policies pose to parishes.

Confirmation Retreat Resource
*Now Available in English & Spanish*
In order to assist you in preparing adolescents for the sacrament of confirmation during this extraordinary and challenging time, the Archdiocese of Chicago is pleased to provide a virtual confirmation retreat resource in partnership with Twenty-Third Publications. This leader's guide will provide necessary tools to facilitate a virtual retreat and is flexible enough to be adapted to each parish's unique situation. The Spanish version of the leader's guide is now available here.

If you are looking to collaborate with neighboring parishes to deliver a joint confirmation retreat, please reach out to your vicariate Lifelong Formation Coordinator to get connected with other Catechetical Leaders.

First Eucharist Retreat Resource and Planning Assistance
The Office of Lifelong Formation (OLF) has developed a resource (PDF) to assist parishes in planning first Eucharist retreats given the challenges of the pandemic. This resource includes a list of retreat resources with sample retreat formats, along with tips for virtual, in-person, and at-home retreats. This material is meant to assist parishes and is both optional and adaptable for use in parish programs.