Perhaps one of the most common questions I hear when moving to a year-round process is, do we need to break everyone up into separate groups to facilitate the preparation process? In other words, keeping together certain cohorts who may be on a similar path? Or keeping cohorts who “started” together in a separate group? These are all fair questions, but in the light of moving to a year-round process, it’s really a non-issue.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from a lifetime of being a Catholic, it’s that we love groups! Prayer group, rosary group, knitting group, hospitality group, youth group—you name it, there’s probably a group for that in your parish! Parish groups, or what we sometimes call “small church communities,” are one of the blessings we have as church because they allow us to connect with those aspects of our Christian mission to which the Spirit is calling us. But for as much as groups have a place in our church communities, this kind of “let’s form them into a group” thinking can actually be a hinderance when applied to adult seekers and the initiation process.
Individual paths and group catechesis in the RCIA
For too many years, seekers have been seen as if they were all on the same path—a path driven much more by a syllabus and a calendar tailored to a group instead of one driven by the individuals and their catechetical and formation needs. And even when initiation teams started working with multi-year processes and candidates needing extended catechesis, there was still an urge to keep seekers in a dedicated cohort or group. Mind you, all this was done with the best of intentions, especially as both catechists and group members could see a value in sharing the journey together. But time has taught us that you can in fact accomplish both—having and individualized path for seekers while facilitating catechesis in a group setting.
A while back I was approached by an initiation catechist whom we’ll call Beth. Beth was deeply concerned about the trouble she was having forming her newest seekers into a cohort. I told Beth that her concerns were misguided. Not unimportant (certainly not!) but misguided.
An individualized, year-round process does not mean you can’t meet as a group for catechetical sessions. The key lies in separating the rites and the ritual path from the catechetical process. Not everyone in the group needs to be on the same ritual path in order to be enriched by a group catechetical session. Nor do your catechetical sessions need to focus on a prescribed syllabus of topics in order to be of benefit to all the seekers around the table.
There is both a spiritual and a practical benefit to this approach. On the practical side, most initiation teams are stretched far enough having to maintain one group let alone trying to form a separate team for each cohort or group on a similar path. In smaller parishes especially, where you may have a small team and only a handful of seekers, the there is little value in trying to break them up into even smaller groups.
Different goals for different seekers in the RCIA
On the spiritual side, the benefit lies in allowing everyone to see that everyone, both within the group of seekers or within the entire parish community, is on a separate path. Not everyone has had the same experiences. Not everyone has the same spiritual or sacramental needs. Yet with all these differences, we somehow form a church. The thing that binds us together is Christ! Not what sacrament we’re preparing for. Not our level of catechetical learning. Yet it is the same Spirit that calls each seeker to the table.
As I was explaining this “mixed group” plan to Beth, she raised the question as to whether people will feel like they’re not really part of the group because they’re at different levels, and that some may feel “left behind” because they didn’t start with the rest of the group. Again, fair questions. After all, we’ve learned that the basic tenets of academic instruction and group dynamics lie in the idea of everyone having a common experience and a common goal. But I explained that none of this really mattered for a couple reasons.
First, you can’t count on a group of adult seekers to have either a common experience or a common goal.
Next, and more importantly, we’re all adults. I have found once they understand the nature of the process, our seekers easily adjust to the flexible dynamics of the group setting so long as the actual catechesis followed a more mystagogical process. That is, we let our common experience as a church community guide is into seeing how Christ has intervened in our lives—though the celebration of the liturgical seasons, through the celebration of Mass, through the various activities and events of the ongoing life of the parish.
The key to a successful catechetical session isn’t how much information about the Catholic faith was dispensed, it’s in seeing Christ through the eyes of everyone around the table, from that, discerning the teachings of our faith through those encounters. Catechists don’t need to prepare a lesson; they need to facilitate the ongoing discussion—a discussion that can benefit everyone around the table, from the most senior catechist to the least catechized seeker. We can all learn from each other.
What is your parish process for welcoming seekers into an individual journey? How do you craft group catechesis around that process? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
1 thought on “Is your RCIA open all year-round? Having all your seekers around the same table”
BRAVO!~ Nick and Diana! et.al. It’s about time we re-orientate the RCIA initiation process. I am so proud and happy about this direction, FINALLY! I love the new term, “seeker,” less clinical as in the past. Keep up the good work. All my best wishes and hopes….As we begin a year-round process here.