Sycamore for Sacramental Preparation and Catechesis

Sycamore can be used very easily as a programme of catechesis and sacramental preparation, or as a supplement to the courses that you are already running. It can be run in physical or remote groups.

The sections that follow explain the advantages of using the Sycamore resources for catechesis and teaching. Make sure you have read the WHY START A GROUP page here, to understand the Sycamore vision.

There are over a dozen sacramental and catechetical courses that can be run using Sycamore. See the full list here.

For more general information about Sycamore planning click here. For the Sycamore training information click here.

Sycamore started as a course for enquirers who know little about the Christian faith. But the structure, timetable, resources and methodology can easily be adapted for use with more formal sessions of catechesis or teaching.

“Sycamore has been an overwhelming joy for many people, it has enabled them to open their hearts and to share their faith in ways they never imagined possible. Many people who were reluctant to speak about faith openly, have gained confidence and trust through participation in the discussion topics, and have been amazed at the difference it makes to their prayer life, to their understanding of scripture, and to their desire to develop a personal relationship with Jesus. This is for us a grace filled and blessed moment in the life of our parish, the foundations go very deep in these groups and friendships develop and grow each year, and it’s wonderful to witness people’s growth in faith and commitment to the Lord” (Pauline, a parish RCIA coordinator who has used Sycamore with RCIA for four years)

On it’s own, the content within each film is not comprehensive enough to serve as a systematic presentation of any given topic. You simply cannot present God, Jesus, the Bible, the Church, Prayer, Love, Christian Social Teaching, etc in a twenty minute video.

But there are two ways that Sycamore might be used as part of your catechesis or religious education:

(A) SYCAMORE PLUS: You combine the Sycamore sessions with personal reading and group discussion based around readings from the YouCat. In this way each Sycamore module becomes a full catechetical session. SEE BELOW FOR DETAILED INFORMATION.

(B) SYCAMORE AS A SUPPLEMENTARY RESOURCE: You use Sycamore to introduce a topic before you go into it more deeply, or to supplement a topic that you have already covered and to facilitate more open discussion. You can run a normal Sycamore session as one part of your catechetical course. See the Basic Timetable for an Enquiry Session here. SEE BELOW FOR DETAILED INFORMATION.

(A) SYCAMORE PLUS: HOW TO EXPAND A NORMAL SYCAMORE SESSION INTO A CATECHETICAL SESSION FOR SACRAMENTAL PREPARATION

You can expand a Sycamore session by working through a set of readings from the YouCat. See our YouCat page here.

  • You introduce the topic by running a normal Sycamore session. This involves a short film and open-ended group discussion.
  • Each session has some required reading from the YouCat on the relevant topic. The references are found in the online “Session Guides“. These readings give a solid catechetical foundation for sacramental preparation, and they can be supplemented by other readings and videos.
  • Over the following week, the participants study the YouCat readings at home. They have their own copy of the book. They commit some regular time to this study. In this way they deepen their understanding of the current topic and supplement the input from the Sycamore films. Visit this page for more information about how to use the YouCat.
  • At the next meeting, the participants have a new discussion, based around their reflections on the YouCat readings. This discussion is more catechetical. It gives participants a chance to share more deeply and to ask questions. It gives the leaders/catechists a chance to clarify and deepen the discussion that started the previous week when the Sycamore film was used.
  • You can alternate between the film and the YouCat: One week you watch the film and have a normal Sycamore discussion; the next week you spend discussing the YouCat readings. This makes the course longer, but gives you much more space to discuss the YouCat readings and give proper time to the catechetical aspect of the course.
  • Or you can combine the YouCat discussions with the next film: At the beginning of the session you spend some time discussing the YouCat readings from last week (e.g. for 30 mins); and then you introduce the new topic by watching and discussing the new film (e.g. for 60 mins). This is possible but doesn’t as much time for each discussion.

If you are using the YouCat Extended Readings in this way (combining the YouCat discussions with the next film), here is a simple way of structuring your Sycamore/Catechetical sessions:

  • ARRIVALS (10 mins): Tea, coffee, informal discussion etc
  • OPENING PRAYER (5 mins): In whatever way is appropriate: e.g. some set prayers (the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary etc) with some intercessions.
  • SMALL GROUP DISCUSSION ABOUT YOUCAT READINGS (10 mins): In groups of three, go through your annotated YouCat readings, sharing anything that you have marked, giving time to discuss what was interesting, inspiring, new, difficult, confusing, controversial etc. There is no need to have a catechist in each group of three people.
  • LARGE GROUP DISCUSSION (10 mins): A brief time of discussion with the whole group, led by one of the catechists: To highlight the key points; to hear back from small groups if they have anything important to share; to collect and perhaps answer any difficult questions; or to collect any difficult questions and respond to them next week.
  • SYCAMORE SESSION (50 mins): Run a normal Sycamore session for the given topic. But when the films stops three times for questions and discussion, you will have less time than during an enquiry session. Make sure you have about 10 minutes at the most for each question/pause.
  • FINAL PRAYER (5 mins): In whatever way is appropriate: e.g. with a scripture reading appropriate to the theme that can then be handed out for participants to pray with during the week.

HOW TO USE THE YOUCAT READINGS

If someone is on a catechetical course and you are using this method, we recommend that each participant is asked to commit to 45 minutes of reading and preparation each week. The sessions will not work if the participants have not done the reading and prepared for the discussion, and their knowledge of the content of the Catholic faith will be severely diminished.

Please refer the group members to the How to use the YouCat page here.

YouCat: Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church (various editions in various languages). The text is not available online. It’s best if each participant has their own copy to read and annotate. Sycamore leaders provide copies of the YouCat for each participant in the first session.

Order an English edition of the YouCat here –  from the Catholic Truth Society.

Order an e-book/Kindle version of the YouCat here.

Participants are asked to set aside some time for reading and reflection on the set paragraphs. They are asked to use the YouCat as a text book which they write notes on, and if they dislike writing on books they are challenged to get over this personal dislike!

As they read and reflect, participants are asked to annotate their reading in the following way or similar:

  • To TICK any idea or sentence or quotation that they like or find inspiring
  • To put a QUESTION MARK by anything they do not understand
  • To put an EXCLAMATION MARK by anything that surprises them, or that is completely new to them
  • To put a large CROSS by anything that seems questionable or hard to accept

This forces the participants to engage with the text, and to make it more personal. It helps them to remember things. And it also means that the discussion the next week goes much better, because they are ready to talk about things and share ideas, even if they read the text a few days before. If the discussion is stilted the leader can ask people “What did you like (i.e. look at the ticks you have made)?” or “What questions have come up (i.e. look at the question marks)?” It is also a way of encouraging people to do the reading, because they know they will have to participate in this way the following week, like the pressure of having to hand in homework!

Some people will be uneasy about putting question marks (for fear of looking ignorant) or crosses (for fear of seeming arrogant or argumentative); but the only way that an honest discussion occurs in catechesis is if people are being honest about their questions and concerns. In this way the group can grow together in trust and grow in faith.

The teaching of the YouCat itself is always a reference point, and the references in the YouCat to the larger Catechism of the Catholic Church (in square brackets at the end of each bold paragraph) allow the catechists to prepare more deeply or follow up easily.

“We used Sycamore to introduce a group of about 18 people to the Catholic faith. Most of them had little or no Christian background. I love how these short videos announce the Gospel message, the ‘kerygma’, in an attractive and clear way. We found Sycamore to be extremely effective in helping those who were curious about Christianity to become open to a relationship with Christ. The structure of each video encourages the building of community within the group, especially through the discussion questions. In my view, Sycamore is the perfect starting-point for evangelisation, and can be a springboard to deeper catechesis” (Hannah, a parish catechetical coordinator)

(B) SYCAMORE AS A SUPPLEMENT TO YOUR CURRENT CATECHETICAL AND SACRAMENTAL PROGRAMMES

You can use Sycamore to introduce a topic before you go into it more deeply, or to supplement a topic that you have already covered, or to encourage discussion about a topic that is already well known.

  • You choose which Sycamore module is relevant to this part of your course, and simply build in the time to run a normal Sycamore session on this topic. Each time you add a supplementary Sycamroe session you are adding an extra week to your course, so you need to take this into account when you plan your programmes for the coming year.
  • You can find the full list of the 20 modules here and decide which ones could be helpful in your situation.
  • You can follow the Basic Timetable for an Enquiry Session here.
  • You can customise the session as much as you wish, but there is no need to change the basic timetable too much, because you are not trying to turn the session into a full-blown catechetical session. It is a stand-alone supplementary session that complements the more formal and systematic catechesis you are already doing.

“Sycamore was an excellent informal introductory programme about the Catholic faith, which generated thought provoking discussions amongst participants and helped to build up a sense of community. Sycamore seems to appeal to every age and would seem to fit with the early stages of an RCIA programme” (A Parish Evangelisation Coordinator)

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