During the early part of this year we had talked increasingly about our hopes for future developments in implementing the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. We discussed wanting to begin year-long invitation opportunities for people who may wish to know more about living a Catholic Christian life.
Our other main area of concern was how to be much more faithful to including, or should it be allowing, the whole parish to take its due role in evangelisation and catechesis. That is, to “be always fully prepared in the pursuit of its apostolic vocation to give help to those who are searching for Christ”. Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, n9. How do catechists, in the task of assisting an initiation process, avoid at best being the ‘yeast’ consciously working on behalf of the parish and at worst an exclusive group? We need to unveil more the role of parishioners as threshold companions.
If something like monthly opportunities to meet with, question and find welcome from catholics were to happen we had to involve all parishioners. Both objectives went hand in hand. We knew that perceptions and experience of RCIA could develop more with this process.
To begin with the discussion needed to be opened up for fresh dialogue…to start a ripple effect at least. Hence, parishioners representing some ministries, activities and interests, as well as different age groups were personally invited to come together to explore ways in which we could become an even more welcoming parish.
The Spirit of God doesn’t hang around waiting for our ideas to come to fruition, of course. We had thought that our hopes for regular welcome sessions may be our fresh way to being open to inquirers. The week before the exploratory meeting inquirers came seeking! The ventures happily became parallel sooner than anticipated.
Thankfully, when the invited group met they did not want to hear and then just rubber stamp the ideas proposed but responded to the questions raised and added their own. What happened was an appraisal of how welcome is experienced by all and how it could be. We prayed together, reflected and explored suggestions about who the people are whom we want to welcome. The list included: ourselves, new parishioners, the curious, those who may wish to re-discover a once familiar belonging along with those who have a wish to get to know the Lord and us better and may wish to begin a process towards initiation.
What has happened so far is that the discussion continues among parishioners as the group talk with others. The newsletter was used to alert all to the meeting beforehand and to give a brief account of the ongoing nature of the enterprise. One of the most heartening outcomes was a date in diaries to meet again as a steering group – one that is open and inclusive and listens. A decision that will be worked on initially is to use Christmas, with its customary visitors and ‘returnees’, as a first step in offering invitations to ‘come and see’. It is intended to offer a couple of dates for informal gatherings to be planned for soon after Christmas. Similar action was envisaged for Easter and September. We can work more then with suggestions of how this is to be done and explore materials like those available from CASE (Catholic Agency to Support Evangelisation).
Other questions raised were around how welcome is practiced weekly and how to utilise better our restricted entrance space. Work had begun some time ago on compiling information about the parish in the form of a parish booklet and action was decided on bringing that to fruition.
What we learned was a lesson in how listening and dialogue change and open up ideas – perhaps this is an affirmation of the principle that where even ‘two or three gather together…’ [After apologies, we were 12 or 13!]. We also learned something of the need to change pace in order to include the values and perspectives of others. One step at a time…and need for patience while ‘God gives the growth’!
The hope for yearlong group opportunities to welcome potential inquirers had started with two of us. It took a day or so to realise that this had not been rejected but transformed for the moment and may come in the future. However, there is a sense of shared growth, enthusiasm and responsibility that is enlivening.
Ultimately we have the Spirit of God prodding us to honour the pastoral cycle of continuously bringing ideas together, allowing new ones to be born and moving into action: to explore the mystery of Christ. We are conscious that those of us with leadership in Christian initiation in the parish have the task of keeping the vision of the Rite to the fore in all areas of parish life.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirits!