Is your RCIA open all year-round? Being flexible

The ongoing COVID-19 crisis has forced us all to rethink how we deliver our adult formation and RCIA processes. With so many variables on how we can or can’t meet in person with our candidates, we’ve had to become very flexible in order to meet the needs of our seekers.

But even when this crisis has passed and we’re able to gather in person again, we don’t want to squander newfound successes in delivering our processes. Among them is “being flexible” with both our process and our seekers. Being flexible shouldn’t be an aberration to our current circumstances, it needs to be one of our ongoing standard operating procedures.

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Flexibility in how we work with RCIA seekers

Previously when we dealt with seekers our process was to give them a time and place where we meet with the expectation that they would show up. If they did, great! If they didn’t, we might try to reach out to them, but after an attempt or two we mostly convinced ourselves that if they didn’t show up, they weren’t really serious about going through the process. The problem with this approach is that it was all about our convenience, not theirs, and rarely did such an approach consider their specific needs and goals.

Over the years, we’ve learned that all our seekers have specific needs and specific goals that might not fit with a standardized process. In fact, I would argue that every seeker is unique and that a “one size fits all” approach to adult formation is not practical if we are truly going to deliver on the promises infused in the RCIA text—a process that addresses their individual needs and goals.

Being forced apart through social distancing has actually opened up the opportunity for us to meet with seekers at a time more convenient for both of us, not only during the pre-catechumenate phase, but even with our subsequent meetings and catechetical sessions. This is especially important for those seekers whose life (work, school, family responsibilities) could hinder their ability to attend regularly scheduled catechetical sessions. Accommodating these needs is the sort of flexibility we need to retain once we move past this crisis.

Flexibility in how we run our RCIA catechetical sessions

For many parishes our catechetical sessions have been the primary means for delivering formation and the RCIA. We have learned, however, that the rigidity of this method has a tendency to work against the needs of our seekers and can be a barrier to integrating them into the life of the parish.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, we were forced to throw out whatever we were doing before and develop new ways of delivering on our formation and ritual processes. Knowing that we can throw out what we’ve done before is a critical first step in reforming our catechetical processes. This now gives us the freedom to throw out our syllabuses and focus our sessions on our lived experience in the parish through the liturgical seasons and the liturgical calendar.

Also, we’ve learned that not all of our seekers are on the same schedule. The different needs of each seeker tells us how much catechesis they may need as well as what ritual path they should follow. Catechetical sessions are not, and should not, be the primary means of a seeker’s formation. Formation instead occurs with their active involvement in the parish community.

Catechetical sessions become secondary—a chance to process their experiences and connect them to Catholic teaching and traditions—the very definition of a mystagogical approach to catechesis. And such an approach affords much more flexibility in delivery and doesn’t necessarily mean adhering to a rigid weekly type of schedule.

Flexibility in our own thinking about RCIA

Sometimes it takes a crisis to snap us out of our complacency. The COVID-19 crisis has forced us to rethink not only how we deliver on our adult formation processes but how we can deliver the necessary rites while remaining socially distant. Many of us have been forced to try things we never thought possible. This crisis has forced us to go beyond our comfort zones and many of you have come up with some very creative solutions along the way. You’ve proven that Church can continue even when we are socially distanced.

Let what you’ve learned through this crisis remind you of what’s possible and don’t be so anxious to fall back on “the way it was” once this crisis has passed. Instead take this as a sign from the Holy Spirit that change can be a necessary good. Far too often our inability to change is our own aversion to change. For years now we’ve seen that a year-round model can lead to better discipleship while making our jobs as initiation ministers much easier. The flexibility we’ve learned during this crisis needs to carry on well beyond the crisis and remain an integral part of our processes.

Your Turn

What’s one aspect of your parish RCIA that you’ve had to adapt or change over the past year? What’s one change that your seekers and catechumens are responding well to? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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