Last June, a new pastor was assigned to St. Zephinia Parish where Sally Soothewright was the director of the RCIA team. The pastor was an affable guy, and he quickly established himself as the leader of the parish. Sally was happy to have him on board—until it was time to celebrate the Rite of Acceptance. The pastor was not used to the way St. Zephinia celebrated the rite, and he asked Sally to make some changes. When Sally resisted, the pastor changed his request to a directive. When Sally informed the team of the new rules, three of them quit on the spot. The two that were left seemed sullen and withdrawn during the celebration of the rite. Sally began to pray about whether or not she should resign as team leader.
Is change in your RCIA process good or bad?
Has change like that ever happened to you? Or to someone you know? While a new pastor is often the catalyst for change, it could also be a new team member, a new director of religious education, a new liturgy director, or a new policy from the diocese. The point is, change happens. It happens continuously. Sometimes change happens for good reasons and sometimes for silly, unsubstantial reasons. Was the change at St. Zephinia good or bad? Was the pastor right or wrong? Were Sally and her team too inflexible or not? All of those are the wrong questions.
The question RCIA leaders need to ask
The question is, did either Sally or her new pastor handle the change process as well as possible? And the answer is no. Neither were prepared for change themselves and neither had prepared either the RCIA team or the parish for change.
From Sally’s perspective, everything was running smoothly and had been for the previous ten years. Why mess with a good thing. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” was her motto.
From the pastor’s perspective, the rites were not being celebrated correctly. There was something lacking in the ritual that he could not accommodate himself to. As the leader of the parish, he saw it as his duty to ensure that all the public rituals of the church were “by the book.” His solution was to simply enforce the rules through the authority of his office. Or you could switch the scenario so that it might have been the pastor, not Sally and her team, who was actually breaking the rules. The root problem is still the same.
The Number 1 roadblock for most RCIA teams
The root problem here is complacency. Sally and her team had grown complacent about their RCIA process. In any group that has found a comfort zone, complacency becomes the norm. Once a group becomes complacent, they are almost impervious to change. Another key characteristic of complacent groups is they often think of themselves as dynamic. They mistake activity for change-oriented, growth processes. Because they are busy—sometimes overwhelmed—they assume change is happening all the time. In most cases, however, all of the group’s activity supports “the way we’ve always done things” and is a barrier to true change.
If you don’t think this is true about your team, ask yourself what would happen if your pastor or your team leader suddenly left the parish. The team then gets a new pastor or a new leader who has a completely different idea of how the team should operate. What would happen next?
Take the long view in planning for change
If something like that happened tomorrow, my assumption is most teams would have a difficult time absorbing the change. But suppose a change in leadership is down the road a bit. Perhaps your pastor is only in Year 2 of his six year assignment. Or perhaps your team leader is planning to retire in five years. You have a little breathing room. What should you do?
You should get started on your change process now! Before it’s too late. In another post, we’ll look at how to start breaking out of complacency.