Last Saturday saw the first of the R.C.I.A. Northern Network “Journey in Faith” days that I ‘blogged about’ in September. Amongst the fifty five who gathered were ‘new teams, experienced but tired catechists, parishioners who have often wondered just what it’s all about’ and a genuine Enquirer who had telephoned the office some days earlier. He had seen the poster and ‘wondered what it was all about’. We explained the purpose of the day and that although he had not yet officially taken the step of contacting a local parish regarding his growing desire to ‘become a Catholic’ he would be made welcome if he chose to come along: and he did!

Welcome

He admitted later that when he first entered he had ‘cold feet’ and wanted to run away, but he came and introduced himself instead and I was able to introduce him in turn to someone I knew would be a very good ‘accompanier’ through the morning session. Nikki is in the second year of a Foundation Degree in Pastoral leadership at Hope University and is currently reflecting on the RCIA for her course so this opportunity for ‘hands-on’ experience was valuable for her too. I knew I’d made the right decision when at lunch time he came to me again and asked me how he could go about taking this forward: he had thoroughly enjoyed the morning and knew he wanted to further explore living as a Catholic Christian. I introduced him to the co-ordinator of the parish RCIA team which meets just five minutes away from his home and she accompanied him through the afternoon.

What were the main ingredients of the day that were so much appreciated in the final evaluation forms? Well we shouldn’t be surprised that in fact, they all flowed from the vision of the RCIA itself:

“warmth, we were made welcome, a variety of voices giving input, lovely spiritual atmosphere, good teaching and sharing, enlightening and encouraging, breaking and sharing the Word, friendliness and openness of people sharing, scripture study in a small group, excellent music ….”.[1]

Also greatly appreciated were the two real life story tellers who came to the day. The first told his story of his family’s journey from non-practising Anglicanism to becoming enquirers and spoke movingly of ‘the threshold’ of belonging and the freedom to choose. In the afternoon a Neophyte (he loved his new name!) described how full membership resulted in him knowing that he wanted to ‘give something in return’ and his involvement in the RCIA group in a new way. Both these ‘very brave witnesses who spoke on their journeys’[2] added a deeper dynamic to the experience of the day and kept it ‘real’.

A mixture of experience and freshness, of accompaniers and accompanied permeated the day and the inclusion of parts of the Rites themselves: in the signing of the cross during morning prayer and the dismissal … to lunch (!) brought alive the ability of the Rites to speak to our experience.

There was some serious conversation in plenary about people not wanting to be seen ‘upfront’ and therefore not celebrating Acceptance/Welcome rites except within the RCIA group, but these were countered by others who shared what it meant for them to receive the welcome which followed such a celebration.

Without doubt though what stays with me is the very rich sharing of the Gospel for the 32nd Sunday in ordinary Time Year B. The images, words/ phrases and questions posed by people as it was broken open in the large group stretched and challenged my reception of it and I am left with the images of three faces discerned within the story itself: the smug, the humble and the watching face of Jesus.

Did we achieve what we hoped for? I think we did :

It is an introduction for anyone new to RCIA or for parishes wishing to refresh their team. An opportunity to glimpse a vision of the richness the RCIA journey offers, not only to new comers to the faith, but to the whole parish community. All are Welcome!”

The programme for the day was arrived at through inter-diocesan collaboration and was delivered through local collaboration: Amen to collaboration! May Middlesbrough, Hexham & Newcastle, Leeds and Hallam all experience similarly encouraging days.

Candle


[1] From the evaluation forms completed on 7.11.09

[2] Evaluation forms