Why do we think Evangelisation starts at the Church door?

So how do you recruit? It may not be the right term, but if we put as much energy into recruiting as the National Trust do, just think of the numbers we may be initiating into the Church.

Two things got me going on this, one was a comment  about the likelihood of a Rite of Acceptance, that ‘we may have someone who has just joined the RCIA. They’ve been to the first session’. The second was when I was literally standing at the front door to the parish office and was told ‘that we might have a couple of ‘nibblers’, who’d made an approach. It was probably standing at the outside door to the parish office that did it, but I suddenly thought, how we were failing prospective Christians by waiting for them to approach our church. Both the above comments recorded the expectation that enquirers make their first approach to the church, and while in some respects that is correct, we seem to have forgotten there is an even earlier stage. What might it take before we get into the mindset of being open to evangelisation away from the church door.  

The first thing is to note that evangelisation is not taking every opportunity to ‘preach God’ to the unconverted. It is not proselytising and it’s not moralising. I think of it as being open to the Holy Spirit working in others and using me as its instrument. I couldn’t stand on a street corner and proclaim the Good News of God, but I’ve come to see how in subtle ways I can open other people’s hearts to the joy and hope that Jesus brings.   Here is one example. 

Somebody I know (but not a close friend), who has had their share of worries in their personal and family life, sent me a text  one Sunday morning asking when I went to church if  I would ask my God to keep a special eye on someone for them. It came right out of the blue from someone who had previously told me they couldn’t find God in their lives because of all the troubles they’d endured. I was delighted to be able to text back and say ‘of course’.

I got another text the next week, asking if I would please send the same words to God. I must have been a bit slow, because it needed this text to make me think that I should be doing something other than praying, as I’d been asked. Eventually, I sent a text with a little story about a close (non baptised) friend of mine, who at a time when she was experiencing some family problems, had told me how she liked to call into churches, any church, and look for a statue of a beautiful lady, with a serene face, who she would talk to, and how it used to make her feel calm, and at ease.  After my text there was silence for a while, and then I got a text back that mentioned about looking for a very easy book about God.  I thought of all the books I’ve got and realised that a story version of the Gospel was the best book to start with. I got an email address and sent a few ideas. 

Now I don’t know what will happen with this person’s journey, but I do believe that similar opportunities happen to us all in our daily lives, and that this is when evangelisation takes place. It is a way that the whole parish can get involved in subtle ways in the first period of the RCIA, after all:

‘the precatechumenate is of great importance… It is a time of evangelisation: faithfully and constantly the living God is proclaimed and Jesus Christ who he has sent for the salvation of all. Thus those who are not yet Christians, their hearts opened by the Holy Spirit, may believe and be freely converted to the Lord….’ (# 36).

Being honest, I know in my parish that the message has not yet got through that it is the whole Church, (RCIA General introduction 7), all the baptised, who have a part to play in the very first period of the RCIA (# 8). Until the ‘entire community’ understand that their individual and collective role as Christians is to ‘proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God’ (EN 14) then new Christians will only enter our church when they manage to arrive at the church or parish house door.

Until RCIA ceases to be the domain of the few who make up or are affiliated to the RCIA team, the whole dimension of ‘witness’ will go undetected and undervalued.

I’ll end with a suggestion. As our fully initiated Catholics emerge at the Easter Vigil, how might we benefit from their experience? Has anybody analysed and assessed how the last ten years of enquirers got onto the RCIA? How many of our PPC’s have anyone with responsibility for evangelisation? What strategies can we introduce for reaching out to the unchurched?

How do we use our liturgy to express Catholic identity? Is it accessible to those who are not (or not yet) Catholics? Is it inculturated? Is it faithful to Catholic tradition?*

Sue P

21/1/08

Catechesis in Advent: Christ past, present and future

Most parish enquiry groups are a mixed bag, so I don’t think ours is unique in that we have two unbaptised teenagers and their uncatechised but baptised Mum; a person who was ‘received’ elsewhere two years ago through one-to-one instruction but has never felt she ‘belongs’ to the Catholic church, and although fully initiated, she comes along to share in the catechesis;  then we have a man whose first marriage has just been annulled, now engaged to a young widow parishioner; another is married to a Catholic whose children are now being prepared for Holy Communion and he wants to think about becoming a Catholic himself;  a woman from a Protestant background with a strong personal relationship with God, but no experience of ‘church practice’; and finally, a woman who met one of our neophytes in a cycling club and is interested in finding out more (about the Church, not cycling!)

When we first started using the Rites of Initiation of Adults we were worried about this sort of mix, and how to meet each person’s needs.  Now we have stopped worrying!  We see it as real ‘treasure’ for the parish.  Using the liturgical year, and the lectionary, as mainstays for our catechesis, we have found that over a period of between 1 and 3 years our catechumens come to a deep understanding and experience of the mysteries at the heart of our faith. We are no longer ‘driven’  by the time constraints of a more programmatic approach – and we would call this more of an ‘apprenticeship’  into the Catholic Christian way of life – the sort envisaged in the Rite itself.

All these people have knocked at our door at odd intervals since last January, and we have trained ourselves (!) to say ‘Come in’ rather than ‘Come back in September’.  We are muddling our way towards an all-year round ‘Come and See’ enquiry.  By about Advent most people have been with us for several months, and we offer the first opportunity for the Rite of Welcome (or Acceptance).  In looking at the Rite together, seeing what is required, it has been discerned (by us and them) that 3 of our 7 enquirers are ready for this step. And that hasn’t been difficult – people know when they are reay, and we can see the change in them over the months – there is an infectious enthusiasm, an openness to the Gospel, eagerness to learn to pray, to be part of community life.  Others are still a little cautious about what this commitment might mean, and want to carry on asking questions.

With the limited resources in our small rural community, the team decided to have the enquiry and catechumenal sessions on the same night.  This means a welcoming drink and chat, followed by prayer time and gospel sharing together, and then split into the two groups for the deepening catechesis, with two members of the team guiding the process in each group, with sponsors there to support.  The main ‘pillar’ of our catechesis in Advent for both groups continues to be the Sunday gathering, with opportunity to reflect afterwards on the experience of the Liturgy – the heady mix of signs and symbols, gestures and vestures, words and silence, is rich enough fayre for any apprentice to feast on! Leading up to Christmas we have some parish activities planned, and the enquirers and catechumens are actively encouraged to take part in community life – special advent liturgies, an outreach to the elderly housebound, a presentation on our Zimbabwe project – all of this is part of the apprenticeship in the Christian way of life, deepening the awareness of Christ in the season of Advent.  Yes, Christ in history, and Christ who will come again, but most importantly, the Christ who comes and is present is so many ways in our every-day C21 lives.

Resources:

  • Have a look at RCIA Network website [www.rcia.org.uk]  for Tool Box for discernment among other things;
  • The Liturgy Office  for info on lectionary based catechesis and lectio divina.
  • www.cliftondiocese.com produce some resources for year-round lectionary based catechesis
  • Shrewsbury (Paddy Rylands) and Brentwood (Nuala Gannon) produce weekly  ‘lectio divina’ leaflets.

Caroline D 

10/12/07