Nick Wagner and I just landed back at TeamRCIA’s home base in San Jose, California, after spending five full days with 70 RCIA leaders from all over North America. We are exhausted yet energized by what we’ve experienced this past week.
The Diocese of Saginaw in Michigan sponsors an annual leadership training for its parish ministers, and this year they asked TeamRCIA to guide them through an intensive look at how RCIA is the model for transforming parish catechesis into discipleship formation. This topic is so important that they opened up their training week, usually reserved for the ministers in their diocese, to the entire TeamRCIA community. So many of you responded to their invitation that even before we began the first day, we were greeted by longtime TeamRCIA fans we know through our monthly webinars and weekly emails but had never yet met in person! We really felt like many of us were already good friends even though we were meeting for the first time.
We had participants from not only all over Michigan, but also California, Texas, Montana, Indiana, New York, New Jersey, and an RCIA team from Toronto, Canada! Several others also came with their teams including one with their pastor. We had priests, a deacon, many religious, and lots of lay leaders; most were catechists and RCIA team members, some were liturgists, music ministers, or parish administrators; we even had a couple of diocesan directors. By the end of the week, all were recommitted to being evangelists.
With five full days, Nick and I were able to go deep into the principles of the RCIA as well as adult learning principles, mystagogical catechesis, liturgy, and change leadership—after all, conversion is just another word for “change,” and the RCIA is all about change. But this was the recurring question we posed to one another throughout the week, in a wide variety of ways: How will the things we are learning, planning, and doing here and in our parishes help to evangelize?
In order to bring the good news to people who are seeking some good news, we have to do as Jesus did, so we listened to one another’s stories and practiced being good listeners and storytellers. All of us talked about the first time we met Christ and how we encountered Christ in our communal prayer. We shared significant moments of dying and rising and how that led to deeper conversion in our own lives. We heard a participant’s story about her grief over the loss of a beloved family pet; another shared about his resurrection from the darkness of alcoholism; one person during the week was accompanying a friend through the last moments of her life. Many from the Saginaw diocese and other neighboring dioceses shared their ongoing struggles and transformation through the process of parish mergers, closings, and rebirths of communities.
Maria Rodriguez of the Lansing Diocese shared her parish’s story of outgrowing their small mission church. Because of their significant Hispanic community (their parish is about 80% Hispanic), they needed to find a new church to meet their needs. The day their mission church closed its doors, each parishioner, from elder to child, took one piece of their church and processed, singing psalms, litanies, and hymns, to the neighboring Polish church community that had seen its own numbers drop dramatically. This community opened their doors and their arms to receive their neighbors and become a new community with their brothers and sisters in need of a place to worship.
Now if you think we were just all about serious business, we also got to practice some evangelizing and storytelling at a couple of outings we took through the generous hospitality of our hosts.
Pat Preston, the Faith Formation Secretary for the diocese, organized all the details of the week, including making sure we experienced $9 nacho night at Timbers Bar and Grill, a local favorite hangout. Dr. Daniel Osborn, Director of the Center for Ministry, who helped prepare the schedule for the week, also took some time out to, literally, take us out to the ball game. Through a generous gift from the son-in-law of local parish leader Sharon Wahl and one of our participants, 20 of us were able to enjoy an evening of baseball in a beautiful box suite at the brand new Dow Diamond to watch the home team, the Great Lakes Loons, beat the Lansing Lugnuts.
It happened to be mascot night too, so we had some visitors come by the suite to try their best to enchant Dan’s little two-year-old, Grace. I’m not sure she was buying it. But with a “blue moon” overhead and great company all around, it certainly was a memorable evening and a night full of grace.
We were also blessed to spend some time with liturgy colleagues in the area. Rev. Duane Wachowiak, who had been the Director of the Office of Worship in the Diocese of Gaylord, is now back in his home diocese of Saginaw to be the pastor of three partnered parishes and to be closer to his father and family. Fr. Duane took us on a tour of the most popular tourist spot in Michigan—Frankenmuth, Michigan’s Little Bavaria. There we had a bit of Christmas in August as we got lost in the maze of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland, the world’s largest Christmas store. And we enjoyed the famous family style chicken dinner of Frakenmuth Bavarian Inn Restaurant, where we ran into Edgardo Juarez, one of our participants.
Edgardo just started his new job three weeks earlier as a Vicariate Coordinator for the Office of Catechetical Ministry for the Diocese of San Bernardino in California, when his director told him to pack up for Saginaw to be trained in RCIA ministry. What a way to begin a new job!
One of the things Nick and I enjoy doing when we travel around the country is to visit presidential libraries if there’s one nearby. So on our way back to San Jose, we headed to Grand Rapids (near the pinky side of the Michigan mitten map) to see the Gerald R. Ford museum—the library, separate from the museum, is located in Ann Arbor, by the heel of the thumb on your Michigan map. (Nick and I got pretty good at using our hand, like good Michiganders, to figure our way around the state!) With this latest presidential outing, we’ve seen eight of the current 13 libraries. So if you’re anywhere near the Eisenhower, Hoover, Clinton, Bush, Jr., or Roosevelt libraries and want to help us complete our presidential library passport, let us know! You’ll get a great pair of presenters for your RCIA team training event, hint, hint…
While in Grand Rapids, we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of Rev. Chris Rouech, who is the interim director of the Office for Worship for the Diocese of Grand Rapids. It also just happened to be “Restaurant Week” in Grand Rapids, where local restaurants will prepare a wonderful fixed menu at a ridiculously low price so locals can explore new places to eat. Fr. Chris took us to one of his favorites in downtown, and we talked about a great book that we had referred to often during the week and that his own parish staff, by chance, was also studying—Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus. Here was yet another opportunity to share our stories and our passion for leading others to encounter Christ. How wonderful that so many of these encounters this past week were over good food with new and longtime friends.
The mission we all share as Christians, and especially as RCIA ministers, is certainly a big one: bring Christ to those in need, and make disciples. That can be pretty daunting and leave us feeling overwhelmed. But as we ended our last day of study, Nick and I were moved by the spirit of hope and confidence that filled the conference room. People were leaving with a deeper understanding of principles and new skills they had practiced in their interactions with us and with each other. All of us had shared a bit of ourselves with one another, and we were taking back a bit of our time together to our various communities. It is these memories and stories, and so many of the stories that you, our readers, fans, and friends throughout the nations, that will continue to feed us in this wonderful ministry we share with you.