It has always felt wrong to ask inquirers to wait. Once they have taken the all important first step of approaching someone it is not fair to send them away to wait until a more ‘convenient’ time for us. Last year we tried to solve this dilemma by working towards monthly open ‘welcome’ sessions for inquirers, perhaps to include new parishioners.
Other parish needs pre-empted that particular drive and the parish is benefiting from the reconstituted Ministry of Welcome and new impetus to complete a parish handbook.
What had felt like something of a setback with regard to a way of being available to inquirers, in fact has solidified into a ‘come anytime’ mentality. Though the experience is now more of fluidity than of something solidifying! The work of the Spirit – not how we had meant to plan!
It came about without any fresh (autumn) invitation or information about the Journey in Faith process in the parish. That had been stalled while parish consultation about ways of inviting and welcoming took place. Yet, before that first meeting inquirers were making their own first approaches. For three weeks running a different person arrived making inquiries: one asking for baptism; one to be Confirmed and to receive Eucharist and then one to be received into Full Communion. Within a week or so of the first approach we had arranged a suitable time for her and those who where close on her heels. We gathered our small RCIA team and new sponsors. As with Peter at the house of Cornelius [Acts 10], the Spirit was leading people and all we could do was to respond to their request, and stay with them and share experiences of God’s work in the church.
So it has continued. We have managed to respond immediately to individuals who have continued to arrive – not weekly! We have taken account, of course, of their family, work and time commitments and fitted in with them as much as possible. One group now has a catechumen whose babies were baptised at Easter, a previously uncatechised catholic who is now fully initiated and a new catholic brought up within a different Christian tradition and another who remains on the periphery as yet. Because of child minding issues the best time for this group to meet was after Mass on Sundays, or rather, after coffee following Mass. [For very good reasons dismissal catechesis was not appropriate.] A result of that timing has meant that we had a natural way of parishioners and inquirers getting to know each other – people made new friends and parishioners became more aware and involved in the process simply by offering welcome and acceptance. Older teenagers and later families have become invaluable child minders too. It has been of great benefit to meet from within the heart of the parish assembly and fresh from the Sunday liturgy.
Another group has formed in the meantime – meeting on weekday evenings. Because of catechists and sponsors and by now the experience of the rites of acceptance, reception and confirmation and first Eucharist for those others there is a bond between the two groups. There is a sense of a heightened challenge – a goal that is achievable and empathy. The awareness goes both ways. For example, it mattered to those who went to the cathedral at the beginning of Lent that others were exploring in the ways that they had. At the same time it caused some excitement and a sense of unity for the inquirers.
In a sense it is a ‘messy’ process because of new inquirers joining a group who are in the early stages of getting to know each other. Yet it feels right. Ironically perhaps, it seems peaceful and is at once energising and calming. People who are still new in their exploration of catholic Christianity are themselves encouraged by, and encouraging of, new comers. It has made the RCIA process even more just that – a fluid process. We find that we don’t have to try to avoid the idea a programme. Liturgical catechesis feeds all of us and the issues that are brought by inquirers and that catechists suggest for exploration have no set sequence and get revisited along the way.
There are, of course, hurdles to overcome. There is a shortage of trained catechists and no diocesan provision to call upon. Inevitably the RCIA team is stretched even more in terms of time and commitment. Will we reach a time when we have confident catechists to lead in the initial stages and others to lead catechumens and candidates? Perhaps. For now we will endeavour to respond to the Spirit who prompts inquirers long before we meet them and try to offer “catechesis suited to their needs, [and] contact with the community of the faithful…” (RCIA n401)