Nick’s “daymare,” shared in the TeamRCIA newsletter, is more truth than fiction, I fear. Our parishes are filled with kind and faithful people of good will, and many of them are ready and even anxious to respond to volunteer opportunities. Relying on the Spirit to guide them, they pour themselves wholeheartedly into “whatever you need me to do.” Such generosity is often applauded as selfless virtue. The part that can be forgotten, however, is the part about the Spirit’s gifts being many and the parts of the Body being complementary. The consequence is that faithfulness and generosity become the only criteria for ministry at the expense of the discernment of gifts.
Consider a case in point: the volunteer cantor who can’t hold a tune or who freezes in front of a group. All the good will in the world will not result in effective music ministry from this person. The same holds true for ministries of initiation. For each ministry— liturgist, catechist, hospitality minister, sponsor, dismissal leader, spiritual director—a specific set of gifts, skills, education, and formation is needed. Nick has offered some thoughts on this variety of gifts given by the same Spirit to different individuals in his previous posts. (Click here and here to read more about that.)
What are our true gifts?
Let us return to our generous volunteer cantor. What if she really believes she can sing? In fact, what if she believes she can sing well and she really wants to offer her gift to the community because there is a need she can fill? It is obvious to the rest of the community that her gifts are not musical.
The problem is that her volunteerism is coming from her own agenda and needs, and not from the needs of the parish. However, her gifts are expressed in other areas of parish life very effectively. She is an amazing lector. The Word of God seems to leap off the page and come to life every time she proclaims the readings. She is sought out time and time again to serve as minister of the word for special feasts and celebrations.
Thus the community recognizes, appreciates, and affirms her true ministerial gift given by the Spirit for the common good and the building up of the Body.
Sometimes we, like our cantor friend, are blind to our own gifts while those around us see them more clearly. When we are looking for volunteers, then, let us turn to the community around us for assistance. Following these simple steps can make all the difference in the experience and quality of effective volunteer ministers to assist in the ministry of initiation:
- Ask your pastor for permission to seek volunteers at the announcement time following liturgy on one or two Sundays per year.
- Provide small index cards and pencils for the members of the assembly.
- Prepare a brief explanation of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults and the ministries for which you are seeking volunteers.
- Include a list of qualities, gifts, attitudes, and experience that you seek in your volunteers.
- Invite each member of the assembly to name one or two other people whom they would recommend as team members, sponsors, etc. and ask them to list the reaons that they are recommending that person.
- Collect the cards. Note which names are repeated and the qualities that are indicated.
- Contact the persons whom the community at large has recognized as gifted in certain areas. Let them know that their own parish community has recommended them, and share with them the reasons that their names were suggested. (Affirmation goes a long way!)
- Invite them to consider prayerfully the opportunity to share their gifts with the community by serving as catechist, sponsor, liturgist, or whatever role you are asking of them. Assure them of your support.
- When volunteers emerge and have made the commitment to assist you, take time with your pastor and team to pray for them and bless them for their new ministry. (A simple adapted blessing from “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” would be appropriate.)
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