How did you get started in RCIA ministry?

7 thoughts on “How did you get started in RCIA ministry?”

  1. I got started in RCIA ministry without really knowing what it was. I was Sunday-only kind of Catholic until my senior year in high school. In college, I got involved with campus ministry. Someone “sent” me to a talk that an archdiocesan priest was giving in St. Louis. I can’t remember what I thought the talk was going to be about, but it turned out to be about how to make more Catholics. Now, in St. Louis at that time (the late 70s), we were not hurting for Catholics. It wasn’t exactly like the pre-Vatican II days, but it was pretty close. The priest shortage didn’t really hit St. Louis until ten years after it hit most places in the country. Most of the Catholic grade schools were still open, and I think they even opened a couple of high schools.

    Two things struck me though. One was how excited this priest was about all this stuff. The Catholicism I grew up with seemed pretty lackluster, and one of the things I was trying to do was get college students to wake up to their faith. I wondered if they could get as excited as this priest.

    The second thing that got my attention was when he started talking about the dismissal. It was like a light bulb clicked on. If we could somehow start bringing new folks to church, folks who wanted to become Catholic, that all by itself would wake up the average Joe Parishioner. But then if we sent the new folks away, in the middle of Mass, that would be like lighting a “teachable moment” firecracker under the pews.

    I left that meeting with my heart pounding and my head swirling, determined to find out more about what this RCIA thing was all about. And I’ve been doing that ever since.

  2. Great idea to share these stories, Nick. Thanks for asking.

    My RCIA beginnings are not edifying. Having completed my Masters degree at Loyola University of Chicago in the very early ’80s, I thought I would become a Pastoral Counselor in a parish setting. Returning to the Los Angeles area, I experienced series of providential events (NOW I can say that!) which brought me to a parish in the San Fernando Valley. During the interview for the position, the Pastor asked me how I imagined the role of Pastoral Associate. Enthusiastically I talked about all my hopes, dreams and visions. He, however, kept bringing up RCIA. I knew just enough about this “new movement” to be clear about one thing: It wasn’t for me.

    The Pastor finally relented by saying, “OK, you don’t have to do it yourself; just see that it happens.” That sounded reasonable enough to me since everything else about ministering in that parish seemed to be just right. So I pressed onward to “see that it happened” and found myself studying the ritual text, falling in love with the vision of Church and discipleship that I found there, and less and less reluctantly agreeing to become involved. I knew we needed a Team, so I just walked up to a few people in the parking lot and asked them if they would help. Thankfully they agreed. We were learners together.

    The first year I relied on my abilities and experience as a teacher and provided nine months of what I thought were pretty good faith formation classes from September through May. I confess that by the end of the following year not one of those catechumens or candidates was still active within the parish community. I knew something was very wrong and decided to explore the Rite in depth, and participated in workshops and Forum Institutes. By the third year the pastoral team, RCIA team and I were very excited about full implementation of the process envisioned in the Rite and began to facilitate the process accordingly. Today, almost a quarter of a century later, the catechumens and candidates who were embraced by the parish and formed by the assembly and activities in the parish are not only active but also leaders in their parish communities.

    I got involved because what started out as a job became a personal journey of conversion on many levels: personally, professionally, educationally, sacramentally, ecclesially (I don’t think that’s a word!). I was changed by the women and men who, despite sometimes tragic challenges and obstacles, persevered with their heart’s desire to become part of our faith community. They humbled, inspired and challenged me. The formation of catechumenate ministers has become my life’s passion. This ministry gives me life, energy and hope for the Church that is being born anew Easter after Easter and renewed Sunday after Sunday.

    This really isn’t my story. It’s God’s.

  3. When I first moved close by the parish I now work for, I realized I could just as easily belong to any one of about 6 parishes within a 5-8 mile radius. I began attending Mass at the closest one and decided I did not have to look any further.

    My journey to work in RCIA began with a plea from my niece. My brother had his daughters baptized when they were babies but did nothing beyond that in terms of catechesis. “Aunt Marty, could you be my sponsor?” Sure, no problem; I will be able to attend only part of your sessions but I will do my best to be there every week. “OK, but Aunt Marty, there is one more thing. Could you be Cathy’s (my other niece) sponsor too?” Sure, I suppose it could be the ‘family rate’. “There is one MORE thing. My mom (my sister-in-law) wants you to be her sponsor too.” Wow! I am not sure if there is a limit on this but since you are family, I guess it will be ok.

    Now, needless to say, I began attending the RCIA sessions at my parish on a regular basis as sponsor. I was in awe of the program—parishioners were table facilitators, other parishioners were “resident theologians”, even more people were sponsors, a whole separate crew worked hospitality, our elderly and shut-ins prayed for our candidates and catechumens.

    The next year, I was asked to talk to the group as a resident theologian and I volunteered to be a facilitator. One year I worked with the Children’s Catechumenate. The Holy Spirit was grooming me and gave me an excellent role model in that previous RCIA Director because 2 years after she retired (there was an interim Director) the pastor asked if I would take the reins. Yikes!

    My rookie year as Director has been challenging since much rebuilding of the program is necessary. In that 2 year interim, parishioner involvement was allowed to dwindle (aside from the public rites) and it has been a bit of an uphill climb to get Jane & Joe Pew excited about the RCIA process again. Due to moves and job changes, I am losing some key players in the process but am encouraged by the enthusiasm of the ones who remain.

    God gets us exactly where we need to be. I did not really choose this ministry; it chose me.

  4. My wife Katie was raised in the Episcopal Church. Before getting married, we discussed our faith lives, and she was comfortable with raising our family in the Catholic Tradition; she even indicated that at some point she would probably become Catholic. However, we agreed to get married first and take that journey together. After about a year, we started attending RCIA sessions together; I tagged along for moral support.

    I have to admit that I was disappointed with what I saw. There was a lot of group discussion and sharing, and not a whole lot of instruction. I wondered, “How are they ever going to learn the —Ëœstuff’?” Since I was attending the sessions anyway, the team asked me to sponsor one of the catechumens. I was happy to do so, and enjoyed contributing to the group. By the end of the year, I found that although I still thought that the year had been light on content, it was nonetheless a powerful experience.

    I was asked to help the RCIA team for the following year. During one of the planning sessions, the coordinator indicated that she was going to need to step down for personal reasons. No one else seemed to want to take on that role. Without giving it much thought, I volunteered. Those first few years were a learning experience. I had no training in catechesis, and my formal religious studies had ended when I received the sacrament of Confirmation. My leadership style and implementation of the Rite during those first few years probably would be best compared to
    a bull in a china shop. Not very pastoral! However, I stuck it out, and by the grace of God, year after year folks came to RCIA and were welcomed into the fold.

    With each year my appreciation for the power of God’s grace in the Rite deepened. I learned that quite often, my job as a minister is to get out of the way and give God room to work. It was during this time that I had the opportunity to participate in a Beginnings Plus Institute sponsored by the North American Forum
    for the Catechumenate. It was a ministry — and life – changing event.

    For three days I was immersed in the Rite, and was presented with a vision of how powerful it
    can be. I came to fully realize that this rite is not just about instruction. The knowledge of dogma and doctrine is a means to an end. At the center is Jesus Christ. If I allow folks to enter the Church knowing more about the institution than the Son of God, I am not doing my job. I came to experience the rites and rituals as more than symbolic performances. I could see the grace of God working through the words and music and actions. I also came to another important realization. In life, there is always the ideal. We work hard to achieve it, but rarely will. We are not called to achieve perfection, only to strive toward it.

    I left the institute with my heart burning within me. Although I would continue to struggle with how to implement the vision within the —Ëœreal world’ of parish life, I never lost sight of the ideal and looked for ways to move the RCIA ministry at Holy Cross toward it.

  5. You are quite welcome, Nick. Now, tell the truth. The only reason why you asked the question is because, like every other initiation minister worth his or her salt, you are a “story junkie.” What with it being after Easter and all, you don’t have a bumper crop of Inquirers, Catechumens & Candidates to give you your “fix”!

    By the way, I will be interning with the Forum this Summer!!!

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