The first time I was “in charge” of a catechumenate ministry, I had three team members — myself and two brand new volunteers with no knowledge of the RCIA. The parish was a large community with over 10,000 parishioners. A lot of my focus in my first year was getting more team members. And that was a mistake.
The mistake I made was not realizing I already had 10,000 team members. Many RCIA leaders make this same mistake. We know that the whole community is supposed to be involved in the initiation of seekers, but we grow frustrated trying to get seemingly lethargic or disinterested parishioners to take the catechumenate seriously.
Almost every RCIA leader makes this one big mistake
However, here is why giving up on your parishioners is a mistake. Let’s say you have a big team. Everyone is well trained, and you are able to smoothly integrate seekers into your process at any time of the year. You are able to cover all the bases, and when you look at your process, you don’t see much that could be improved. However, in this ideal scenario, everything is working so well that you don’t really need much involvement from the parish at large.
Most of us don’t have such an ideal situation, but many of us aspire to it. However, think about the outcome that results from having such a large and high-functioning team but no parish involvement. The seekers are essentially being initiated into your RCIA team and not the larger body of Christ manifest in your parish community. This realization hit me big time a few years after I had begun my ministry in that large parish.
I happened when I ran into a former neophyte at the grocery store. I hadn’t seen her in a long time, but that was not unusual in such a large parish. I asked her how her life as a Catholic was going. She told me she no longer went to our parish or any Catholic parish. She said after she was baptized, she didn’t know anyone in the parish and felt lost. And do you know where she wound up? She was going to an evangelical megachurch down the street that had three times the membership of our large Catholic parish. In other words, a community of over 30,000 members had successfully found a way to involve their parishioners in a welcoming process for our neophyte.
Are you using the best team-building strategy?
At that moment, I resolved to do better. I stopped trying so hard to recruit new team members, and I started focusing on the 10,000 team members I already had. I decided that day to take more seriously the mandate of the Second Vatican Council:
But this Christian initiation in the catechumenate should be taken care of not only by catechists or priests, but by the entire community of the faithful, so that right from the outset the catechumens may feel that they belong to the people of God. (Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity, 14)
I know this is not an easy task. It would be great if we could just put a notice in the Sunday bulletin that the initiation of seekers is the responsibility of the whole parish and everyone would take that seriously. But that’s not going to happen. In a future posts, I’ll share some strategies for involving the whole parish in the initiation process. The first step, however, is to shift our attitude. We have to take seriously the mandate of the church to give this responsibility to the community of the faithful and make that our number-one priority.
Share your ideas
How have you involved the entire community as part of your RCIA team? What strategies have you used? Please share in the comments box below.