SASKATOON — The team who now co-ordinate the Lay Formation program in the Diocese of Saskatoon are passionate about faith and deepening their relationship with God — and it is a passion they long to share.
For Jennifer and Blair Carruthers, Lay Formation is a forum for faith-sharing and faith growth that involves placing trust in God. Right now, it also involves learning the program’s ins and outs alongside participants and fellow team members.
“God is leading us down this path and we will humbly walk wherever he may lead,” say the husband and wife.
The couple began co-ordinating the Lay Formation program this fall in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon. The program is two years in duration, with participants meeting for one live-in weekend a month for 10 months, from September to June, at Queen’s House.
An eparchial stream co-ordinated by Sisters Bonnie Komarnicki and Marijka Konderewicz of the Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy of Saskatoon also started in September, as did an Aboriginal stream (with participants from the dioceses of Saskatoon, Prince Albert and Keewatin-Le Pas), now co-ordinated by Marlene Hansen of Buffalo Narrows.
This year for the first time, the diocesan and eparchial streams will meet Friday evening and all day Saturday, but not Sunday. The Aboriginal stream will continue to be offered on Sunday.
The change in schedule was a way to address costs and the sometimes challenging time commitment of the program, said Jennifer.
The new co-ordinators are grateful for the journey that has brought them to this point in their lives.
Born and raised in Biggar, Sask., the couple were married in 1990; Jennifer, a Lutheran, was confirmed in the Catholic Church in 1997. They were part of St. Gabriel Parish in Biggar for some 16 years before moving to Saskatoon and becoming part of Holy Family Cathedral Parish. Jennifer was a Registered Nurse and Blair has been involved in banking and a range of businesses over the years.
Blair describes their core values as “faith, family, fitness.” Pointing to a family photo with their five children — Brandon, Rebecca, Jessica, Blaise and Amanda — he says, “Everything we have done in our lives, whether it is career or otherwise, is for this. That sums it up.”
Their family’s journey of faith was powerfully affected in 2014 when all seven participated in a parish mission trip to Haiti.
“Our lives have been forever changed. We saw God at work in the lives of the poorest of the poor, and we started a new journey of faith,” Jennifer describes.
“There are places, even in our own backyard, where we can do mission work,” says Blair. “When you do mission work you receive much more than you actually give, and that’s the message we give to people, and it’s the same thing with this: we are happy to serve.”
After their mission trip, the couple became more immersed in their faith, serving as participants and leaders in the parish Alpha program — which also had a powerful impact on their faith. The Carruthers also helped to co-ordinate the Matthew Kelly “Passion and Purpose” program that was offered at the cathedral last year.
Ultimately, it was the seeds planted in the Haiti trip that led them to this new undertaking as Lay Formation co-ordinators in the diocese, says Blair.
The call to apply for the position was not something they were looking for or expecting, Jennifer adds. Their discernment began with people in the parish asking them to consider it. Both Jennifer and Blair stress the importance of filling the position as a couple. Together, they bring a range of skills to the position that assist them in searching for ways for people to deepen their faith and become missionary disciples — the ultimate goal of Lay Formation.
“Too many times people come to mass because they need something,” says Blair. “It’s ‘OK, here I am, feed me, give me what I need.’ But you have to bring yourself to mass — your gifts, your brokenness — and develop this relationship with God. That’s what Alpha brought me, and what I am experiencing now with Lay Formation. You can do a lot and understand things on one level, but ultimately you’ve got to develop communication with God.”
Deepening a relationship with God is key to the transformation that happens through Lay Formation’s focus on prayer, learning and community — three things that are at the heart of all the church does, says Blair.
“Often when we talk to friends in rural COMMUNITIES, we find it’s not that they don’t have faith, they just need guidance. This journey takes time and it takes patience. I just want to reach as many people as I can.”
“We would like to have everybody in the diocese in Lay Formation,” says Jennifer, but she realizes that’s not a realistic possibility. So it’s important that new ways are found to help those who can’t attend Lay Formation or other programs, especially people in smaller or remote parishes or those who are not deepening their faith in any way. Finding and developing programs that help people take “the next step” is part of a conversation the couple are having with pastors, Lay Formation alumni, parish and diocesan representatives.
Blair stresses that he and Jennifer, too, are still on the journey of faith, with much to learn. “We are taking Lay Formation right now; we just happen to be running it as well.”