I remember watching Joan talk with a group of middle schoolers who were just beginning the RCIA process. All the kids seemed to be smiling and engaged. Afterwards, I said to her, “You are a master!” She very casually replied, “Nah. I just love kids and I love Jesus.”
This simple encounter got me thinking about what it takes to be a good children’s RCIA catechist. These are some of the skills I saw in Joan and some of the skills I have seen in other good children’s RCIA catechists. See what you think; then, please add your own thoughts!
A children’s RCIA catechist must:
Have the skill to work with kids
You could tell that Joan truly enjoyed being with those kids. And, in turn you could tell the kids enjoyed being with her. It used to make me really mad when an RCIA minister would say, “I don’t do kids,” as if they were “above” working with children. But, let’s be honest; not everyone is good with kids. Sometimes in our desperation for help in the RCIA, we are willing to settle for a person who may have knowledge of the faith and a deep relationship with Jesus, but little aptitude for working with children.
A children’s RCIA catechist with a love for children mirrors the love of Jesus. And, that’s a big part of what we do in RCIA – we show children the love of Jesus. Children sense Jesus’ love in someone like Joan. They respond more readily to Jesus’ invitation to discipleship when the catechist has the skill to relate to children at their level. Moreover, children in the RCIA are usually new to Church, so it’s important for them to feel completely comfortable and at home in RCIA. A catechist with good “kid skills” helps children feel at home.
Be a good listener
A good children’s RCIA catechist needs to be able to really listen to the needs of the children and their families. Children in RCIA, like all children, come to the Church with a story. Often their families have been away from Church or they are new to Church, so the catechist needs to listen to the family’s story and adapt the process accordingly. One of the first steps in the RCIA process is for the catechist or coordinator to meet with the child and family and hear their story.
Likewise, throughout the process a good catechist listens to the questions, concerns, and issues of the children and their parents and addresses them along the way.
Know how to teach prayer
Mostly, you teach prayer by praying with the children in the RCIA. Modeling is the best teacher. But, I noticed Joan didn’t just pray with the kids, she taught them how to pray. She’d say something like, “Now we are going to open our hearts to Jesus by being quiet and inviting him to into our hearts.” She’d give little clues and tips on how to pray. She also taught them how to pray with a Scripture passage, how to enter into mediation, and of course, how to reverently pray our traditional Catholic prayers. She would also send suggestions home so children and parents could pray together at home.
Be a good story-teller
Many catechists are good story-tellers. Telling stories from the Scriptures is an especially important part of being a good catechist. But, story-telling is particularly important for children’s RCIA catechists because, often times, children in the RCIA have not heard many of our Christian stories.
Many children need evangelization and many of the parents need re-evangelization. Not only do RCIA catechists tell Scripture stories, but they are able to tell stories from our tradition. They can tell the stories of the parish, stories of saints and sinners, and stories of “growing up Catholic,” or of being a new Catholic. Joan has a great story about being in eighth grade and crowning Mary, “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” And, then she goes on to explain why Catholics describe Mary as “Queen of Heaven and Earth.” Joan’s humor and story-telling ability bring life and meaning to the Church’s teaching on Mary.
Have liturgical catechesis skills
You don’t have to have the skills of a liturgist to be a children’s RCIA catechist, but you do have to love the liturgical rites of the RCIA. Furthermore, a children’s RCIA catechist must have a sense of how the rites fit within and indeed “drive” the initiation process. The rites are constitutive to the entire process of initiation. Thus, a catechist must have a sense of how each period of initiation leads to and culminates in a liturgical rite. And, in most instances the catechist will have a role in preparing the children for the liturgical rites; the Rite of Acceptance, the Rite of Election, the Scrutinies and Presentations, and the Sacraments of Initiation at the Easter Vigil.
This understanding of the liturgies of the RCIA is often a “skill” that must be taught. For example, when Joan first began, she knew nothing of the rites of the RCIA. Remember – she just loved kids and loved Jesus. But, with help from the RCIA team and the RCIA coordinator, Joan learned how the signs and symbols of each ritual helped lead children to the celebration. She also learned how to “unpack” the meaning of the ritual after the celebration. By studying the Rite and by learning from the RCIA team, Joan developed her love and skill for the liturgy.
Have skills for service
Before she was ever a children’s RCIA catechist, Joan was a disciple of Jesus Christ. She and her family served turkey and mashed potatoes at the parish Thanksgiving dinner. She was a volunteer for the Good Cheer Club (an organization that helps the blind). She was someone who lived a life of serving others; just as a disciple of Jesus Christ would naturally do.
Joan brought her skills of service to the children’s RCIA process. She got the RCIA kids and their families involved in serving the Thanksgiving dinner. She had them make treat baskets for the Good Cheer Club. The children and families in the RCIA learned “how to work actively with others to spread the Gospel” (RCIA, no. 75.4) by witnessing Joan’s life of service.
There are certainly more than six skills that good children’s RCIA catechists should have. What skills do you think are important for those who are catechists in children’s RCIA?