Bettina, is a Catholic, German, a theologian without a ‘post’ in the Church. She studied Philosophy and Theology. Her community, ‘House Church of the Word of God’ www.fiatverbum.de was founded by Bishop Wurtz 10 years ago. There is an ‘inner circle’ or heart of the community, Baptised people, surrounded by an outer circle of families, priests, religious. Bettina works for the Lehrhaus Institute www.lehrhaus.de where they explore the connections between psychology and spirituality. She teaches ‘teamwork’, working with the biography of people who come, and seeing how faith connects with their psycho-social development.
The ‘catechumenate’ group, affiliated to the local parish, developed through co-incidence. The local priest asked Bettina to prepare a woman for baptism. The parish catechists were all too busy with other catechetical work. Bettina accepted with pleasure, and met the woman concerned – she came from Eastern Germany, a strong woman, mother of two, married, and quite shy. The woman’s concern was that she would not ‘be on the same wavelength’ as she felt she ought to be. Bettina suggested that she bring her husband and any family and friends who would like to come along to a group who could then explore the Catholic faith together. The basis of the group was friendship, meeting twice monthly, with no ‘concept’ or plan. Topics emerged. They studied Scripture, both Old and New Testaments and Church doctrine, all in a very simple and straightforward way. There was no great ‘lesson plan’ or ‘programme’. Simple conversation, and some handouts to explore together. Bettina noticed that those already baptised also had a great thirst for knowledge. They wanted to know the Church teaching too. It was an excellent experience for all, growing together. The group consisted of every type and class of person, those who had studied before, and those who had never studied at all, baptised and not baptised. Everyone was very open to explore ‘theologically’ together in this simple, non-threatening way. It was both the experience of being together and the content, explaining and exploring scripture and doctrine that made it successful. The taught content was led by the group questions, delving into such diverse things as the heresies of the early church – and from their exploration (for example, the heresies) they were able to say ‘We know this is right, because of our own experience of the teaching now’. Through other personal relationships, new people came from other towns further away to the twice-monthly gatherings. For six years, this group has been meeting. Two women have been baptised.
Bettina draws the following conclusions and comments from their experience of this ‘house church’:
- No plan, no programme – only the initiative in response to a live situation – one person asking for baptism
- The mandate for this process was given by the priest (although sadly thereafter he took no part and did not encourage people in the parish to find others who might to come along)
- Baptism was only the first step on the way of conversion – they wanted to know more. The group process is led by the questions of members.
- The group was led by volunteers, not ‘professionals’ – everyone felt on an equal footing, everyone grew together
- The connection to the parish remains a problem – others ask for baptism, but the priest is the one who decides whether or not to send them to the group or make arrangements for instruction himself.
- It is the Parish who, through the group, has the responsibility to prepare people for baptism. The group understand the importance of the role of the community, and make sure that the members are warmly received in the parish – they accompany them to Mass each week, take them to socials.
- It is a simple concept – possible for every parish. It is not a lot of work – no hassle!
- Key – the woman invited her family and friends (like the woman at the well)
- The home or household is the school of faith and discipleship
What do you think? What would you take from this ‘model’ for use in your own situation? How might you develop ‘households’ to be the context for a catechumenate group?
What would be the positives? and the challenges?