If you’ve been following this series you know we’ve suggested throwing out your syllabus and letting the liturgy and the liturgical seasons guide your catechesis. To wrap up this portion of moving to a year round process I’d like to offer a few more practical tips that can help you move to liturgically based process…
Consider the “environment” of your space
In a previous article I discussed how it’s best to avoid a classroom setting, instead use a conference room or other flexible meeting space. But wherever you meet you should also give some attention to the décor of the space. Consider the liturgical colors and elements of the season and items related to the week’s topic (i.e. bowl of water for baptism or an Advent wreath for Advent). Use tablecloths, center-pieces, banners, and other elements that evoke the season and theme. If you don’t have any skills in this area, talk with someone in our parish who does. And since the space is likely shared by others, come up with something that can be put out and put away easily. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it should be deliberate, and it should help bring your church’s seasonal environment into your meeting space. Candles (if allowed in your space) also make for a nice focal point during prayer.
Piggyback your needs with what’s already going on in the parish
Whenever and wherever possible, don’t reinvent the wheel. Instead make use of the resources already available in your parish. For example, one of our associate pastors is always reminding me about how those in the RCIA should engage in some form of social outreach. Great, you say, but I just don’t have the time to plan something like that. But here’s the thing…you don’t have to, nor should you, do this, on your own. I haven’t seen to a parish yet that doesn’t have someone or a group that engages in social outreach on a regular basis. Get to know them and see how you can work together.
Facing the challenge of summer
Perhaps the hardest part of developing a year-round RCIA process is that fact that many parishes tend to go into “shut down” mode during the summer. Does a year-round process mean having regular catechetical sessions throughout the summer? Not necessarily. Being open year-round doesn’t have to mean business as usual. What it does mean is providing seekers, catechumens, and candidates opportunities to engage in the life of the church. Of course, a lot will depend on your parish community, but chances there are other activities going on besides Sunday Mass. See what other parish groups might have going on and see how those in the RCIA can participate.
Or, you might try hosting some alternative community building activities yourself. There are lots of options to consider beyond regular dismissals and catechetical sessions. Examples include field trips to your cathedral or other historic churches and sites. Hosting a video night or a video discussion series. Hosting a short retreat or day of prayer. There’s any number of different activities that can be planned during the summer months, either on your own or with other parish groups. In fact, in my parish we actively encourage other parishioners to join us on those activities we plan.
The main point is that you should never go completely dark. You should continue to maintain contact with everyone continuing on with the process. You should continue to be engaged in the activities of the parish. And most importantly, you should always be prepared to welcome new seekers and find ways to introduce them to the community life of the parish, even when you may be taking a break from regular catechetical sessions.
I like to remind all my fellow catechists and all the parish staff (especially those who may be taking phone calls from or talking with seekers): If the Holy Spirit is calling someone to our door, who am I to say come back later.
Be open and be flexible
One of my favorite rites in the RCIA is the Ephphatha Rite. Here we teach the Elect to “be open” to the Holy Spirit in final preparation for the rites of initiation. It’s a good lesson for us as RCIA catechists as well as we embrace changes to our processes. On a more practical note, it helps to be flexible as you develop and fine tune your process. Some things will work and some things won’t, or maybe not right away. Implement, evaluate, and move on. This works not only for transforming your process, but is something you should continue to do on a regular basis.
I’ve talked with a number of RCIA catechists who feel that this approach is radical and unworkable… some pie-in-the-sky ideas that can’t possibly work. But what we suggest here is neither radical nor unworkable. It’s just different from what many of you may have experienced. Many parishes, including my own, have successfully implemented a year round liturgically-based process, so we know it can work. Sometimes it takes a little faith in the Holy Spirit, and that can take you a long way.
If your parish has a year-round RCIA, what helps you keep things fresh for your team and your participants? If you don’t have a year-round RCIA, what concerns do you have about making the switch? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Photo by William Katerberg | Unsplash