This article was written by Lorraine Miller from St. Philip Benizi Parish
I came into a parish with an established RCIA process that followed the school year schedule beginning in September and ending in May. Each year, however, I was uncomfortable telling people inquiring about the faith in January or February that they needed to wait until September to begin the process. These people, who were often moved by a personal encounter with God or even by an RCIA Rite they witnessed, felt called to become Catholic. As part of my efforts to get to know the candidates, I interviewed each one at the very beginning. In those interviews, it also became very clear that a person’s experience with the living God varied widely. I wanted to put something into place that honored God’s call to them that did not depend on a school year calendar.
How I transitioned
In a previous parish, I offered a successful process for Catholics returning to the faith created by the North American Forum for the Catechumenate that was based on the model of the RCIA. It was called “Remembering Church.” We paired people with companions, and met with them one-on one. While there were no formal phases like the RCIA, there were blessings and a penitential rite as part of the process. People could join us at any time and remain as long as they wished. Those who participated often continued in the process by becoming companions or catechists.
Because the “Remembering Church” model allowed for people to join at any time, I knew it was possible for RCIA to do the same. I also knew there would be many challenges. To make this work, I knew that I needed to fully understand the RCIA. Additionally, I needed to convince the current team about the benefit of moving to a year-round process. I also knew that I needed a bigger RCIA team and a plan for expanding. Finally, I needed to find a way to manage record keeping! For me, keeping track of folks seemed the most daunting task of all.
I kept the current school year model process in place for one year while I began addressing the first challenge of learning as much I could about the RCIA. I found the following books especially helpful:
- The Way of Faith by Nick Wagner
- The RCIA: Transforming the Church by Thomas Morris
- The Year-Round Catechumenate by Mary Birmingham.
I also joined the Atlanta Forum for the Catechumenate so I could consult with those more experienced than me.
The next step was getting the team on board with the same vision for the RCIA. This was difficult because people are naturally resistant to change. Unfortunately, two long time members of the team stepped down because of the change. I invited and encouraged the remaining team members to attend RCIA workshops with me. Fortunately, I had someone well-versed in the RCIA at my parish who presented the first workshop. I made sure to bring my team to the workshops offered by the archdiocese. I attended with my team and saw these workshops as an opportunity to bond as team. I also encouraged the team to sign up to receive Team RCIA emails and to register for the RCIA Forum for the RCIA’s Blog. Once everyone shared the same vision, we decided that while the transition to a year-round process might be messy, it was worth it!
Honoring the RCIA
To move to a year-round process, I saw the phases of the RCIA as separate entities with different purposes, physical atmospheres and emphasis. I recruited and developed separate teams for the phases of the RCIA and started using different spaces with different seating arrangements. For example, because inquiry is about sharing stories, finding our story in the larger story of scripture, and recognizing God in our life journey, a more intimate setting was appropriate and those leading it gifted at welcoming and encouraging faith sharing. The catechumenate, however, was more suited to a classroom setting with round tables that allowed for both presentation and discussion. Meetings during the Purification and Enlightenment period needed no tables but chairs arranged for faith sharing. Recruiting new team members became easier, because many team members were no longer required to be there all year long! The sponsor had that role of day-to-day accompaniment and the emphasis of supporting the candidates switched to the larger community.
Facing my biggest fear of keeping track of everyone was the final challenge. I downloaded some record keeping ideas from Catholic Digital Resources http://catholicdr.com/RCIA/administrative but ended up creating my own excel database. I was pleasantly surprised that It was not as difficult as I thought it would be to keep track of everyone.
It is important to know that you can transition to a year-round catechumenate in steps. For example, for the first year, add only a separate year round inquiry that feeds into the catechumenate whenever a person is ready. You may also have RCIA to suit distinct populations. At St. Philip Benizi, we have up to four different RCIA groups; an adult English-speaking catechumenate, an adult Spanish-speaking catechumenate, a family catechumenate (children ages 8-14) and a teen catechumenate (when needed). It is important to know that I did not transition all RCIA groups to the year-round process at the same time but started with the adult English-speaking catechumenate. Now that I am comfortable with that year round group, we are transitioning the Spanish-speaking catechumenate and will add the others next year.
How it is received?
The best part of moving to a year-round process is that we can welcome anyone at any time. We can also bring people into the church throughout the year, not just at the Easter Vigil. This honors an individual’s journey of faith. Communication is essential for the team as they like to attend the reception of the sacraments for individuals outside the Easter Vigil. The biggest challenge for me personally was accepting that groups were often smaller; with only 1 or 2 individuals transitioning to the catechumenate rather than a larger group all moving together. I am more comfortable with this now and my pastor is very supportive celebrating the rites of welcome and acceptance as needed.
The one fear most of the team had, including myself, was would the candidates in the RCIA bond with one another if people were always coming into and out of the process? Interestingly, this year we saw more bonding of the candidates with each other than ever before. Another effect, I believe, is that the emphasis has moved to the importance of the Catechumens and Candidates getting involved with the larger community. The first meeting with the candidate emphasizes sharing one’s gifts and talents and finding a place to belong in the larger community. This emphasis continues throughout the process.
Get your team on board with the benefits of going year-round, be okay with messiness, and don’t be afraid to tweak the process as needed. It’s not perfect, but isn’t that a true image of the journey of faith?