Every DRE has his or her own approach to ministry. In my parish, our faith formation philosophy is to meet people where they are. I know it’s a pretty simple idea, but when we think about the variety of people from so many different backgrounds who come together in the Church, it is important to remember that the same approach won’t work for everyone.
This attitude can prove to be especially important when working with the Rite of Christian Initiation candidates and catechumens and the diverse faith experiences and upbringings they bring to an RCIA group. Here are three general guidelines for working with the RCIA.
1. Get to know your candidates/catechumens.
Sit down with them one-on-one and get to know each of them personally before they join your program. My first year in parish ministry I worked with two catechumens. The first, Abby, knew almost nothing about Catholic (or even Christian) beliefs and practices; the other—a young man named Robert—was raised in an Evangelical church, spent the previous year researching Catholicism on his own, and knew more about the faith and the Bible than most of the RCIA team. There was really no other way to minister to these very different catechumens than to find out what they knew and wanted to know, and to go from there.
2. Get to know your team just as well, or even better, than you know the catechumens and candidates.
As I shared above, Robert came to us to “learn” about the Church, already knowing more about it than many on the RCIA team. Who should I choose to sponsor the already-knows-it-all young man and help him focus his knowledge on growing his spirituality? Who will be a gentle and patient guide to the woman who has no previous faith experience? Which team member excels at hospitality? Who can be relied on to explain the nuts and bolts of Catholic practices in a way everyone can understand? Each person on the team brings his or her own gifts to the mix. Find out how each person can best share those gifts.
3. Remember that everything we do in the RCIA, and indeed all faith formation, is based on the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults itself.
If you haven’t read (or recently reread) the rite, you may well be wandering through your program in the dark. It is important to remember that the RCIA is a process, not a calendar of events to be checked off. Someone like Robert was almost completely catechized by the time he came to us, and he was ready to join the Church right away. Someone like Abby, on the other hand, wasn’t even sure she wanted to be Catholic. She was still feeling her way and didn’t commit to the faith until shortly before the Rite of Election. Everyone goes through the process in her or his own time and, by meeting people where they are, we can lead them to Christ by making the experience one of power and light.
What tips do you have for working with the RCIA in your parish?
Heather Felton is a teacher and former Director of Faith Formation in Florida. She lives in northern Manatee County with her husband, two children, two dogs, and a bunny. When she isn’t working, Heather can be found reading, playing video games with her family, or writing children’s stories.