Philip Lomneth is a husband and a father who works as a Director of Formation at the Co-Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Rochester, MN. Since 2017, he has helped guide people through the Rites of Christian Initiation where they come to love the Lord with all their heart, their mind, their strength, and their soul, and love their neighbors as themselves. The University of Notre Dame’s Master of Divinity program formed him for ministry.
Does your parish have a year-round RCIA process? Do you have a story you’d like to share? If so, please send about 1,000 words to Nick Wagner, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our ongoing RCIA began when Dhakirah, a candidate, walked into my office and asked how long the process would take. I told her that it was ongoing and would take as long as she needed.
We didn’t have an ongoing process and I had no idea how we would handle things if she wanted to go beyond Easter. But we wanted to move there and needed some extra motivation to get started. And so, with this conversation, we began building an ongoing RCIA in earnest.
Moving from an academic year model to an ongoing one seemed daunting. I didn’t know how to catechize with no definite endpoint on the calendar. I was afraid to let go of a curriculum that seemed so solid. I relished my breaks in the summer and didn’t know when I would find time to breath between RCIA “classes.” I had no idea where to start. But I knew we had to. And so, when Dhakirah asked, we began.
Talking about what matters
The first year we tried an ongoing RCIA, we began to see what was most essential. We saw this, not because of our clear-eyed vision, but because we made lots of mistakes, and through the chaos, the candidates revealed what mattered most.
It wasn’t the weekly catechetical sessions, as we rarely had a session where over half the candidates were present.
It wasn’t the curriculum because even though we tried to follow it, we were constantly interrupted by more relevant matters like the sexual abuse crisis, sicknesses and divorce in candidates’ families, and challenges to connect with the community.
Instead, what mattered were monthly one-on-one check-ins with the candidates where I could ask about their lives, their prayer, and how God was leading them. What mattered was dwelling on questions the candidates had instead of rushing to cover all the points. What mattered was talking about what matters, taking the time to ask, “How does your faith help you deal with this?”
The first year was a mess, to be sure, but the candidates were better off for it. They saw the church as it was and grappled with that reality. Whereas the previous year, they were exhausted by the end, this time, the candidates wanted to dive into the community and were thirsting for more. The candidates knew each other by name, and we knew them by name and more. It was the start of something, of a real ongoing RCIA.
Most of the candidates were confirmed at the Easter Vigil that year, and so I had the summer to reflect on the past two years and prepare for something much better. Not knowing when I’d get another break like this, I dove into reading, watching, listening, and laying out a plan for an ongoing RCIA.
Just because there’s no beginning or ending points doesn’t mean the process lacks structure. However, instead of the structure rising from the text of the catechism, it needed to rise from the questions and needs of the candidates. Our RCIA team’s role became one of drawing those questions and needs out from the candidates. A few pillars arose and have become key for our process.
Laying out a plan for year-round RCIA
First, is a dedicated inquiry period. Before, inquiry was just the beginning of RCIA where we taught the fundamentals. Now, we meet for 30-45 minutes between our main Sunday Masses and reflect on the weekly Gospel. Three catechists lead this (two each week) and inquirers come as they’re able. We talk about Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, Church, parables, Israel, God’s love, our own lives, and more. People learn how to talk about faith and get comfortable sharing their spiritual lives with others. The catechists give me feedback about the candidates’ progress and the candidates start getting to know regular parishioners. This process hit a bump during the pandemic (we missed two sessions as we moved online) but otherwise continued uninterrupted.
The next pillar is regular check-ins with a mentor or formator. Initially, these meetings happen in quick succession so we don’t lose someone as they began connecting with the community, but the longer they’re in it, the less frequent they become. Each conversation with an inquirer begins with getting to know them, what draws them to RCIA, models of faith, and what they seek. Candidates come with all kinds of reasons and, the RCIA text notes, these motives need to be purified (43). Whether they come because they are getting married, want to complete their initiation, or feel God’s pull, these meetings offer the perfect chance to dig deep and call the candidates to hone their desire for Christ.
They offer a chance for each candidate to create a set of goals that encourage a holistic formation so that the candidates work towards loving God with all their mind, heart, strength, and soul. Meeting regularly and asking deep questions allows us to better hold candidates accountable. From early on, candidates know they can and will talk about things like cohabitation, suffering, scandal, and more. They know they we will ask about their goals and participation and that they can ask us anything. It becomes a safe space where candidates can feel challenged and supported.
The third major pillar is sponsors. It’s hard to exaggerate the effect a good sponsor can have as they help candidates navigate the community, support candidates in their struggles, and share the witness of their own life.
As we looked at our process, we realized we needed to make sponsors a priority, not just in pairing them with candidates, but supporting them throughout. More and more they have become conversation partners with the team and candidates as we discern readiness.
We need to make sure they feel equipped to accompany their candidates with all the ups and downs of life.
Is your community actively making disciples?
There’s much more work to do. We have yet to take the plunge into liturgical catechesis, we have no period of mystagogy to speak of, and we still struggle to connect candidates into the community from the beginning. But we’re moving there.
We take one thing at a time with small steps. Sometimes we take ten steps backward before we can take one or two steps forward again. It’s all worth it, though.
As much as we’re building an ongoing RCIA, the process makes us all more of a church. It challenges our community to have an active role in making and being disciples. Our main pillar should be the parish community and the more we draw parishioners in through simple ways or push candidates out into the community, the more we’re seeing this come true.
How has your community transitioned into a year-round RCIA? Are the ideas that Philip lists here ones that ring true for you and your community? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
1 thought on “Toward a year-round RCIA process—one thing at a time with small steps”
Thank you, Philip, for sharing. Like your parish, it’s a direction I’ve wanted to move our parish for years, but we fail in implementing for various reasons. Your identification of these pillars has been very helpful.