First Encounters a.k.a The Initial Interview
by Kathy Kelly-Huey
It often begins with a phone call
The adage “you only get one first impression” is apt when we consider the initial conversation we have with those who grace us with a phone call asking, “When does RCIA start?” The way we answer this question influences every subsequent action and interaction we share with the person who posed the question. I like to answer the question with, “The moment you picked up the phone to call me.” By beginning with an affirmation of how God has already been at work in the Inquirer’s life and that he/she has already responded to the Holy Spirit assures the Inquirer that he/she has arrived on time and in time and is right where he/she is supposed to be. If he/she had begun this journey any sooner, he/she might not have been ready for the journey. Jesus didn’t call all the apostles on the same day either. For some this is an initial awareness of how God has been active in their life.
During that first phone conversation, invite the Inquirer to come in to meet with you in person.
The first face-to-face meeting
The initial interview is where we often have our first face-to-face encounter with seekers. It is understandable to think that we are in the driver’s seat conducting an interview, but don’t be deceived. It is the RCIA coordinator who is actually being interviewed. People are testing the waters: Do I feel comfortable here? Is this a safe place?
Relationship-building begins with the sharing of one’s story. Telling a bit of your own faith journey is appropriate in the beginning of the conversation. When we are willing to be vulnerable in sharing how God has been active in our lives, we are modeling that this process is not a class but a journey of faith that all of us travel. Remember, we are being interviewed. Be authentic and be brief. You are priming the pump for the inquirer to share his/her story.
If possible, before a person sits with you, invite him/her to fill out an RCIA informational questionnaire and have them forward or bring it with them to this initial conversation. Using the template with basic contact information, you can begin the invitation to share. Pose questions inviting life stories, “I see you live in Atlanta. Have you lived here long?” This type of question opens the door for stories of transition and change. You might also ask questions about their faith life such as, “Whom would you say has been a person of faith that you admire and why?” A question like this opens the door for positive and negative impressions of church people. Asking the question, “Why here, why now?” allows a person to verbalize the pull he/she has been feeling very often revealing deep emotion or longing in their life. Children are quite able to answer these questions as well.
The initial interview should clarify baptismal and marital history as well. The questions, “Have you been baptized or married?” are too vague. Misconceptions about a Catholic marriage and a Catholic Baptism exist. Inquirers could easily say they have not been baptized because they may be from a faith tradition which re-baptizes. Some folks may have been baptized multiple times. Their answer “no” comes from a different point of view. The same applies to the marriage question. You need to ask, “Have you ever had any sort of marriage ceremony, civil or church—anywhere?” because some people may not consider a beach gathering with a best friend’s uncle officiating a formal attempt of marriage. Affirming how God has been involved during these moments is important. Failed marriages are often a source of pain and embarrassment. To share with a person that God may not have been invited to the marriage in the first place is a way to open the conversation of peace and healing.
The initial conversation might also include stories about the early church and how the first Apostles shared the Good News of Jesus Christ. The stages of RCIA are easily explained if we look at how the early church formed people. In the early Church people were often in formation for many years. Here is where the” time” question (“When will I be baptized?”) is best answered. Saying, “I don’t know – God is in charge,” is a real and true statement. You might say something like, “As you and Jesus journey together, the Holy Spirit will help you know when the time is right for you.” This emphasizes from the beginning that God is in charge, not us. The inquiry period is the place to explain the phases of RCIA. For now, just addressing the “time” question is sufficient.
Formation in the RCIA process doesn’t happen overnight. Time is our ally. Good friendships grow deep roots over time and through shared experience. Friendship with God can begin in an instant or develop over time; but, unpacking the implications of that friendship takes a lifetime. Just as it took time for the Inquirer to muster the courage to make the initial call, mustering the courage to be Christ to others—to become a disciple of Christ—might take a little while longer.
If the adage “you only get one first impression” is true, then our hope is that that the impression that the Inquirer has at the end of this first conversation is positive, hopeful, and free of anxiety. It is good practice to end the conversation affirming where they have been, grateful they are here right now and looking with anticipation to the continued intentional walk with God.