Let’s be honest—many of our parishes do a poor job of connecting with and communicating with their communities. Not just with regular their parishioners, but especially with those whom we want to attract and bring into our communities—our seekers, our catechumens, and our candidates.
One of the inadvertent gifts of COVID-19 was bring this challenge into sharp relief and forcing us to respond and engage with the vast array of communications tools at our disposal. For parishes that already had a good handle on communications and technology, the leap to streaming Mass and online meetings wasn’t too difficult, but for many parishes, it became a trial by fire. I’m happy to say that of those parishes I’ve seen personally, many were able to weather this storm well. But what of going forward?
Your RCIA process can’t go back to “business as usual”
I like to hope that all of us in initiation ministry have learned that going back to “business as usual” isn’t going to work. Not in the near-term as many communities still deal with COVID-19 restrictions, but even after we have a vaccine, “business as usual” just isn’t going to get us where we need in our ministry, for both us and our seekers.
We truly live in a blessed time when a small device in most everyone’s pocket can literally connect us with the world. Yet for all the ease and convenience these devices offer, the institutional church has been quite slow in adopting communications technologies and strategies to reach out to the faithful or to those seeking faith. An announcement in the parish bulletin is no longer sufficient.
We all understand that “God meets us where we’re at,” but church isn’t always there with us. Sometimes I feel like church is a mile behind yelling at us to come back. It’s a shame that it took a pandemic to show us that as church we can’t just stand there yelling at the road ahead, we need to run to catch up. Many parishes have done this. Many parishes are doing this. But some still need to run to catch up.
The tools your RCIA process needs in this new moment
So what is my point? Simple—many of the tools and techniques we’re being forced to embrace because of stay-at-home orders and social distancing are tools we should continue to keep and use even once this pandemic crisis is over. There is more than one way to deliver catechesis. There is more than one way to reach out and talk with seekers, catechumens, and candidates. There is more than one way in which the parish community can connect with those seekers. We cannot and should not limit the initiation process to Thursday nights at 7:00 pm (or whenever it was you used to gather regularly for catechesis).
I was talking with a colleague recently about how the participants in our processes were doing so well with our “Zoom” sessions. Engagement was better, conversations were easier and more relaxed. In a lot of ways our sessions seemed better. Part of this, we realized, was because people seemed more comfortable in their own homes. There was no need to dress up, go out, arrange childcare, or interrupt their already busy schedules. They could join in our sessions while still in their pajamas! Thus we coined the term, “pajama catechesis.” Put another way—we were meeting them where they were at. Not only that, in a lot of ways, it was easier for us as catechists too.
New times call for new approaches
To be clear—there is no substitution for a face-to-face meeting nor for gathering a group of people in the same room together. But it’s not the only way, nor should it be the only way. Years ago when I started in initiation ministry I remember there would be seekers coming to us wanting to join us or wanting to complete their sacraments, only to be turned away because they couldn’t make it on Thursday nights, or because their job or their school or their children prevented them from attending group sessions regularly. We would say to ourselves, “If they really wanted it, they would make the time.” While there is a certain truth to that which cannot be denied, it’s also a simplistic, naïve, and dismissive approach that is not worthy of us as church.
The Holy Spirit has called these people to our door. We, like Christ, need to make the effort to meet them where they are at. If e-mail, text messages, group chats, live stream Masses or Zoom meetings help us to get there, we should continue to make use of these tools even once the pandemic crisis is over. Becoming “fishers of men” is not what it used to be. It’s not always as simple as throwing out a net and waiting for the fish to come. There are a number of ways to catch a fish, all dependent on a variety of factors.
If we limit ourselves to just one way of fishing, we limit the catch. If we actively reach out and offer alternatives as needed, we can reel them in.
What new tools has your minsitry started using over the last several months? What tools and practices are you going to need for the future? Share your thoughts in the comments below.