Dear Parishioners, +JMJ
At our Pastoral Leadership Team meetings we use a template that helps us consider all aspects of parish life under major headings, such as “Sunday experience”, “outreach/evangelism”, “finances”, “buildings”, etc. At one of our recent meetings we talked a fair amount about “faith formation” and “outreach/evangelism”.
In the category of “faith formation” I was struck by how many opportunities there are in our parish for ongoing faith formation. Of course, we have PSR available throughout the academic year for grades K-8. Then we have consistent faith formation happening at Divine Mercy School. Then we have the junior high youth group; and six YDisciple small-groups for high school students (always ready to form more, if we have the need, and find the adults willing to help lead the groups). We offered the Theology of the Body program a couple years ago for adults. We have Bible and book study groups. We have a number of prayer groups – some of which have been together for decades. We have one men’s spiritual support group so far. We have the Bible timeline course which has been led by Dave Jones (of Antwerp) several times. We have the “Gospel with Father” every Wednesday morning to discuss the upcoming Sunday readings. Most recently we have added the apologetics course which is meeting one Sunday a month. In addition to all of this, we have the parish subscription to FORMED, which any of our parishioners can use in their own home – both to advance their own family’s formation in the Faith, and to reach out to friends and neighbors with the Faith.
Speaking about reaching out with the Faith leads us in the direction of the category “outreach/evangelism”. One Faith formation opportunity that equally falls under the category of outreach/evangelism is our RCIA program. This program is an outreach, in that it embraces people who are ready to consider the Catholic Faith, i.e., consider joining the Church. But it is also quite a Faith formation program, because candidates, along with their sponsors and the team consider the basics of the Faith in quite an intense way. Anyone who has sponsored a candidate through the RCIA program will tell you that his or her faith knowledge has increased immensely, even if one has been Catholic all one’s life. The year of “mystagogy” that we offer for newly confirmed members to the Faith, as a follow-up to RCIA, is also a great outreach and formation opportunity in our parish.
As for the category of “outreach/evangelism”, we certainly have individual parishioners who are always reaching out to those around them, doing some work of spiritual or corporal mercy, including explicit sharing of the gospel when the Lord presents an opportunity. At the parish level, we offered the 10-session ALPHA program twice last year. With this we hoped to provide a tool that could invigorate already-practicing Catholics, but also (and even moreso) reach out to people from other denominations, or even people who have never had any formal faith practice in their background whatsoever. We’re considering the possibility of offering in the future a similar program, called Christ Life. This is something like ALPHA, but it is much more explicitly Catholic in nature.
Another very promising outreach idea was raised: What about setting up a perpetual “inquirers” program? Ever since the renewal of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults with Vatican II, it has always been envisioned that there be a program set up even before the year of candidacy and catechumenate (what we all know as RCIA proper), to allow newcomers to inquire about the Faith in a less formal way. I thought a lot about this in the last week. Just as there is a year of follow-up to RCIA (mystagogy), it is totally appropriate and recommended to have a year to prepare for the intense RCIA experience… And this would be our inquirers program. Although we are still at the discussion stage, and have made no decisions, I have some initial thoughts about what the program could look like. It seems to me having it every week might be too intense, yet having it only once a month might not be frequent enough. So I’m thinking at ought to be every other week. We could have a few people who handle the practical details and administrate it, and lead the encounters. We would set up a set list of topics to be covered throughout the year, every other week (with exceptions during holiday times). We easily have all the materials (outlines and background materials) to help anybody put together a bit of a talk and lead a discussion on basic Faith topics. What if we sought the help of our more mature/formed parishioners (members of prayer groups that have been reading for decades?) to be responsible for leading set discussions? Perhaps we are talking about 20-22 topics, and we find 10-11 people who are willing to be responsible for two of those topics? The calendar is set for the year. The inquirers meeting happens if we know there will be somebody in attendance for a given meeting; it doesn’t happen if we have nobody in attendance… and we just move on to the next topic for the next meeting, as scheduled.
What I love about this idea – and what I still think is lacking in our outreach/evangelism offerings – is that we would always have an instrument in place, an event to which we can invite anybody who is brand-new, even somebody with no faith background whatsoever. As it is now, we sort of have to wait until RCIA comes in the fall. Sometimes that means somebody has to wait many months – if they approach us in January, for example – until they have any formal way to explore the Faith with us. Furthermore, not everybody who has questions about the Faith and wants to check it out is ready to begin the RCIA program. That sometimes is not the first step people need, even if the timing of their approach to us could otherwise put them right into RCIA.
So, there is a quick survey of what’s being offered for Faith formation and outreach/evangelism in the parish… And a quick intro into some brainstorming we’ve done for a consistent inquirers program in the parish. If anyone is interested in helping in any way with an inquirer’s program, please contact Theresa Conley in the office. We will keep you informed as the idea develops.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,