An Interview With Backpack Facilitator Meg Maas
We spoke with Meg Maas of Kennewick WA recently about her experience as a Backpack facilitator. Meg has been facilitating Backpack Productions courses through her parish since the Spring of 2020. To date they have run Backpack for Adults, Backpack Adult Faith Formation, Mothers of the Church Year One and Two, and Contemplative Prayer. All of their courses have been hosted through Zoom so far. Meg is also a part of the Backpack Facilitator group. We are excited to share the conversation with you!
Team Backpack: What first inspired you to start running the Backpack, and how did you get started?
Meg: In the Fall of 2019, I had enrolled online in the Backpack AFF program, just doing it on my own and at my own pace. And I remember thinking at the time that this formation, these talks from Kathryn and Margaret were so excellent and so profound and had so much to offer, and in my own experience, were unlike anything I had ever done. I thought to myself, not only is it really helping me, this could really help other people. But I didn’t know how to make that happen, just that this was something that could be really good. I kept following the course, and what I finally came to was that maybe I could invite some other friends to do it with me online. So I just started asking some friends at the Church. I told them, there is this program I’m doing, it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen, it’s helpful, it’s down to earth, it’s practical, it incorporates human formation with the spiritual life and puts it all together with humor, and very real anecdotes. So in the Spring of 2020, we started the Backpack Adult Faith Formation with a small group of us, doing it online through Zoom. That’s how we got started.
I had no idea what I was doing, I’ll be upfront. I could spell Zoom, but that was about all I knew. Basically we got together weekly, for one hour, and we would watch the talks, and I would put the PowerPoint presentation that came with the program onto the screen, and we would just go through it together. That’s how it got started. In July of 2020 we were in the midst of covid, so I thought maybe we could go on to another program, since we were all at home anyway. So we started Mothers of the Church Year One. We went through that the same way, meeting weekly for one hour.
TB: What demographic are your groups open to?
Meg: It’s 18+. We welcome everyone. Everyone who wants to come is more than welcome, men and women. The more the better, there’s something for everyone.
TB: How did you go about advertising or promoting the courses?
Meg: One of the new lay apostles, Monica, was the head of the Mom’s group in our Church. So when we started Mothers of The Church Year One again, we advertised it through the Mom's group. That was wonderful to get the word out there. I had already spoken with the pastor of the parish the year before about the programs, so he knew that it was something good. It was something new to him, he had never heard of it, but he knew that it could be very helpful. Then we wrote an article for the parish newsletter about the Mothers of the Church program, just to spread the word even more. In September of 2021 we decided to run the Contemplative Prayer course in the parish as well, again advertising it through the Mom’s group there. We had announcements in the bulletin as well.
TB: Do you have a Backpack “buddy” helping you facilitate the courses?
Meg: Yes. We have a number of women who are right there by my side. Monica, Emma, Naomi, Debbie, Pat… these are women who are very on board. They understand the spirit of the [programs], and they are definitely team members. The pastor of the parish is supportive to the extent that he can be, but he’s the only priest that we have, so he’s really busy. I tell him when we’re about to start a new course, I give him some information about it, and then he just lets us run with it.
TB: What stood out to you as being different about the Backpack Productions courses?
Meg: I think what really set these particular courses apart from others was the human formation part of it, where we were really being asked to delve into the “why” of what we do, to grow in self-awareness, to look at our lives as part of a complete whole, and say okay, this is who I am right now, what got me here? And how can I be the better person that I want to be, what are those habits that I do now that maybe aren’t as helpful? How can I start to move away from them, but also, why am I doing it? So really that human formation part of it, that component, I never experienced in any other spiritual formation program. And – not that I’m a spiritual formation program guru, by any means, it’s not like I do them all – but I just felt like, because it was so hands-on, practical, the anecdotes were really easy to relate to, there was humor in there also, I just sensed that this was something that not only was helping me, but could really help others. And like I say, I had no idea how to go about doing that, I just knew it was something that needed to be done. That’s really for me what set the program apart. I felt like the topics were spot-on in terms of growing as a person, growing in relationship with others, relationship with self. When we did the Backpack for Adults, that kind of glued it all together.
TB: Did you encounter any challenges or obstacles in getting started?
Meg: It was anything but smooth sailing! There were a few challenges. I’m not a technical person, so there were nights where the women were like, “I didn’t really hear that.” Because I didn’t have it set up right! There were times where we were re-doing the classes mid-week just to make up, so that was one obstacle. I think another obstacle is just life itself, right? Sessions were in the evening, I still have kids at home, so just the challenges of trying to do it online from your home, when there’s all this stuff going on, and, you know, just the challenges of life, if you will, and balancing that with the class. I think those were the main ones. So my lack of technical savvy, and then just everyday life in a house, trying to navigate that, and make it all come together as coherently and serenely as best as we could.
And I think honestly, I was afraid! I’d never done anything like it. It was like diving into a swimming pool and I couldn’t see the bottom, I didn’t know how it was going to go! I didn’t know if I was going to be by myself each week, or if someone was going to come, you know, that kind of thing, that was real. But then you work through that, over time, as you work with the groups you start to get over that.
TB: What helped you get past your fears or doubts?
Meg: Very practically speaking, what helped me get over [the fear] was that we had signed on, and we were going to do it. Like, we were just going to do it, and it was happening. I think it also helped knowing the content of the programs was helpful and needed, so to the extent that that was true, that helped me get over it. Also, from the spiritual side of things, I was really relying on the communion of saints. I knew there were people on my team who were working harder than me to make this a success, so that was helpful… and humbling too, I have to say. I think over time, just the consistency, the content of the programs, the communion of saints, leaning on Our Lord, and just moving forward – all of that helped.
TB: What is the most rewarding part of being a Backpack Facilitator?
Meg: I think the most rewarding aspect for me is knowing that we’re spreading this formation, we’re spreading the teachings… To me that’s the most rewarding, knowing that we’re getting it in people’s hands and in people’s lives, because it’s making a difference. And if it makes a difference in their lives, then maybe they’ll incorporate it, and use it, and spread it out even further, and it’s got that ripple effect, so to me that’s the most rewarding. And then on a side note, I get to hear it all again, and I always need it, so every time we run a program it’s like, oh good, I get to hear that talk again, because I need to hear that talk again.
I’ve found that no matter what the course is, you benefit from repetition. You know, we had just finished Mothers of the Church Year One, and then we got the request to do it again, and at first I was like, “Again? Really?” and then we were doing it, and I was like, “Oh yeah, again! Really!” I need this. And I don’t know any other course like that. I’ve taken other courses again and it feels like, you know, I know this already. But with all of the Backpack courses, I’ve never experienced that before, where I’ve been like, “yeah, here we go again with self-awareness.” It’s more like, yeah, let me get more notes going here!
TB: What advice would you give someone who is thinking about implementing the Backpack in their community but might feel doubt or nerves?
Meg: Honestly, if I can do it, ANYONE can do it. Let the formation and the material do the work. Just get started! Gather a few people together, get started, and recognize that it’s all there for you. There is really very little work that you as a facilitator need to do. The program is complete, the formation is excellent. Smile and be kind and welcoming, and let the program do what it’s going to do, and what it needs to do. Because it will. Try to move beyond the fear, and [if you are spiritual], lean on the supernatural, lean on the communion of saints, lean on your guardian angel, lean on Our Lord’s power to really move people. Sometimes I think when I got really afraid, it’s because I was trying to do it myself. I was leaning on myself like, “I’ve gotta do this, I’ve gotta make it exciting…” and I realize now, that’s not it at all. That just created a lot of anxiety. So I would say to somebody who’s wanting to do it who’s experiencing that fear, just get it going. If it’s two or three people, that’s fine. Get it going, you’ll see that it just comes along. It will move forward, and you’ll gain in confidence, and you’ll realize that really, the program runs itself. It has so much to offer.
TB: What impact have the courses had for you on a personal level?
Meg: For me personally, I’m so incredibly grateful. It’s been nothing less than life changing, and I know that sounds super dramatic, but I don’t intend it to. These years of using the Contemplative Prayer – I can’t say enough how dramatic it’s been in my own life. And my own struggles are probably struggles that other people have too, to a greater or lesser degree. So if it’s helped me this much I can only imagine how much it’s going to help others. Personally that’s a big motivator. This is changing people’s lives. I know Kathryn talks about that whole idea of going deeper than the superficial Catholicism. We really need to go deeper because the superficial Catholicism isn’t working. We see people leaving in droves. So we can help people go deeper, but it’s practical, too. We’re not talking about a 30-day retreat, we’re talking about ten minutes a day, learning how to do Contemplative Prayer, and the effects that has on people’s lives. If we can help people start thinking that way, with these courses, I really feel like we’ve made a difference.
TB: What are some of the practical tips you would share with other facilitators, based on your experience?
Meg: We tried to always start on time, and end on time, because it just facilitated people knowing, okay, I know I can fit this in.
One of the very practical ideas; from the beginning, I sent out an email each week. Let’s say the class was on a Wednesday evening, on Sunday I would send an email to everyone in the class with the topic for the next class, and the PowerPoint attachment so people could see it in advance. Then the participants would have an idea of what we would be covering, and some of them would actually print the slides, follow along, make some notes. Others may have looked at it or they may not have, but it seemed helpful.
Sometimes we’d have everybody there who was enrolled, and sometimes we would have like half the people, and then the next week we’d have the other half, and then the following week we’d have everybody, and there was a time when I thought, when only half the people would come, oh no, I’ve really messed it up, I didn’t do something right and they didn’t want to come! And hey, that may have been a reality, but I think really what was going on was just life. People are busy. So as a new facilitator, if some weeks you have everyone there and some weeks you have two thirds of the people there, you know that’s nothing to be jilted or concerned about, that’s just life. People are busy and have a lot of things going on, so, don’t let that deter from your determination to just move forward and keep offering the material.
Some nights are better than others. It’s not like you have applause all the time. Some nights we had great discussions, and some nights I could hear the birds chirping outside. I never knew how it was going to go, and as you go on you realise that some topics are going to really hit home for people, and generate good discussion, and with other topics, either it’s really personal for them, or else for whatever reason they’re just not touching base for that particular topic or don’t want to talk about it. So I think it helps to allow for that and accept those sessions. It’s all part of it.
Let the formation, let the class do the work, and on a spiritual level, let the communion of saints do the work, and let our Lord do the work, and bring the people along.
TB: Is there anything you would have done differently with hindsight?
Meg: We kind of did it “bass ackwards”, if I can say, and this just proves that I really didn’t know what I was doing, but we decided, okay, what we really need to do is run the Backpack for Adults. Now having run all the programs I would say – and this is well known, but I agree with it – that Backpack for Adults is kind of a foundational program. If people can start with that, it really lays a beautiful foundation of human and spiritual formation, so if I had to do it all over again, I might suggest doing that one first.
TB: Was there any topic or lesson that stood out as a favorite among your groups?
Meg: They really love the lesson on being imperfect. Their feedback was that was so freeing, to realize that that cultural ideal of perfection is not only unattainable, but it’s a source of great anxiety. And these women were so relieved… that was a booming class that night, we had a lot of back and forth and a lot of great discussion. A number of the women who went through the program (this most recent one being the Backpack for Adults) have said to me, “Okay! I am having an imperfect day!” One woman got off a phone call and said, “I was just reminded that I am imperfect!” So hearing that kind of feedback is wonderful.
One woman sent me a note just to say thanks ~ she thought the course was so helpful, she said it was awesome, fantastic, that she got so much out of it. And then another woman said she’s looking forward to the next one.
TB: Can you tell us about your experience facilitating the Contemplative Prayer course?
Meg: In September of 2021 we decided to run the Contemplative Prayer course in the parish as well, again advertising it through the Mom’s group there. That was from September of 2021 to November of 2021. It was good that we did it after the other programs, because Contemplative Prayer takes it to a whole new level, and the feedback from that was also excellent.
One of the things I shared in the Contemplative Prayer course is that Contemplative Prayer can seem a little bit daunting, and they talk about that in the course itself. But the effects on a person’s life are so manifold, so huge! One of the things I always asked of the group was, just give yourself ten minutes. Just start with ten, and you’ll find yourself going to twelve, going to fifteen, going to twenty. Sometimes you’ll find yourself falling asleep, because after the relaxation exercise you’re totally relaxed, so if you’re a Mom, especially, it’s not uncommon to fall asleep. But my point in sharing that was – persevere. Don’t give up because of obstacles. That is talked about so much more eloquently and beautifully in the course itself, but we did go over that in class, just to really give themselves the time to develop that habit, and to say, this is my time, every day, I’m sitting in my chair, wherever I might be, and really devoting the time to it.
TB: What are your hopes or goals for the future of the Backpack in your community?
Meg: As we look to the future, in the fall we’re aiming to get back to an in-person group, doing Backpack for Adults and meeting for one hour a week. My vision is to have something where we are incorporating the different Churches and parishes, so that every Catholic Church in the area is welcome, and everybody’s invited, because it’s really applicable to everyone. I’d love to be able to provide childcare in that time so parents can come. I’d love to have the Church open during that time so people can make a visit. Everyone who wants to come is more than welcome!
TB: Any final thoughts or comments you’d like to share?
Meg: It's been amazing. It’s been a really wonderful experience, and the feedback has been really great. [These courses are] so needed, and it’s been such a blessing. To the extent that I personally can work to get it out, I’m grateful to do it.
Some of the feedback from Meg’s groups:
“What I’ve learned in the Mothers of the Church program has radically changed my life. I’m a more thoughtful wife, a better mother, and I finally have the tools to find the calm and peace I’ve been looking for.”
"I am so thankful for the Mothers of the Church Program! It gives us the tools we need to work through conflict resolution and communication problems. But more than that, it really brings to light, in such a meaningful way, the love and compassion of Jesus; how He is there walking with us through each step of the day. While compassion and empathy are not always easy, if we make the effort, with the help of Jesus, we have the tools we need to truly transform - not only will we see a transformation in ourselves, we will notice a transformation in those around us as well. I highly recommend this program for all women."
If you are in or near the area of Kennewick, WA, you are more than welcome to join Meg’s groups! For more information contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.