It takes a parish to initiate

Involve the whole church in bringing people to faith

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Photo by Mike Connors

By Debbie Walsh

You have likely heard the ancient African Proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” As an active member of a parish leadership team, I have come to a deep and profound appreciation of how “it takes a parish to initiate.” From the period of inquiry to gathering at the eucharistic table, every member of the assembly has been called through their baptism to initiate.

Involve all the baptized
In Christian Initiation, the General Introduction says: “The preparation for baptism and Christian instruction are both of vital concern to Gods people, the Church, which hands on and nourishes the faith received from the apostles” (7). The church—that’s us—you and me, the baptized.

Consider this. What does your RCIA team look like? Do you have a small group of individuals who “teach” people who are going through the initiation process?

Or do you have a nucleolus of well-formed and informed catechists who share their story of faith. Do they encourage seekers to find their own story in the gospel, while building a bridge into the loving arms of your community?

Does your community sponsor, welcome, and pray both with and for the catechumens (adults and children)? Does your community journey together through each liturgical season of the year to the saving waters of baptism and the eucharistic table?

When the whole parish is involved in the initiation process, the door of ongoing conversion swings open wide making room for the spirit and life of a parish community to be renewed.

Open yourselves to conversion
If initiation is viewed as a task to be done, we shortchange the many possibilities that exist for the Holy Spirit to enliven a parish. Initiation is a process of conversion for those preparing for baptism, confirmation, and Eucharist. It is also a wonderful opportunity for each member of the parish family to deepen their own ongoing call to conversion as we prepare to renew our baptismal promises at the font during the Easter Vigil.

With the help of a few well-formed leaders, your parishioners can take on a more active role in the initiation of new Catholics. Integration of those seeking initiation into the everyday life of your parish will result in a warm and welcoming embrace that is needed to create a spiritual home in your midst. Through prayer, persistence, patience, communication, and sacramental imagination, coupled with catechesis experienced in Sunday Mass and catechetical gatherings, everyone in your Sunday assembly will become an active and vital member of your initiation process.

Seven ways to involve your parish in the initiation process
1. Share the vision. Write brief bulletin inserts explaining the rites, periods, and steps. These will enlighten the minds and hearts of the community.

2. Sponsorship. Invite parishioners to journey in faith through sponsorship—adults for adults, children and families for children and families.

3. Dismissal. Invite your lectors or leaders of children’s Liturgy of the Word to lead the dismissal of the catechumens.

4. Parish life. Invite those preparing for initiation to participate in your parish picnic, pancake breakfast, spaghetti dinner, Stations of the Cross, and evening prayer. Whatever your parish is doing, make sure those seeking initiation are invited to the functions.

5. Be creative. Ask the artists or creative people in your community to design banners that reflect each stage of the initiation process. Hang them in your gathering space at appropriate times.

6. Pray. Invite two or three parishioners to pray for a specific member of the elect during Lent and to write a prayer letter to be given to them before or after the Easter Vigil.

7. Pray more. Include the catechumens and candidates by name in your Prayers of the Faithful each Sunday.

Debbie Walsh

Debbie Walsh is a catechist in Bradford, Ontario, serving in the Archdiocese of Toronto. She has been active in initiation ministry for over ten years. Debbie is a team member with the North American Forum on the Catechumenate (naforum.org)
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