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First steps to becoming an RCIA parish

Many parishes are keen to offer an effective ministry around the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) but might be confused about where and how to begin. This is the first in a series of posts that chart one parish’s experience of becoming an RCIA parish, with the aim of providing guidance and resources to those who are just starting out on their RCIA journey.

About

In 2017, the Parish of St Scholastica’s in Bennetswood approached the Archbishop’s Office for Evangelisation (AOFE) about setting up a local RCIA team to accompany a group of people who had expressed a desire to join the Catholic Church. Jacqui Giuliano from AOFE initially met with Father Thanh to review the resources available and to brainstorm ways the parish could invite the participation of local parishioners. The initial aim was to set up an RCIA team, but the more important long-term goal was to become not just a parish with an RCIA, but an RCIA parish, whose overall disposition was one of welcome, discernment and accompaniment.

In collaboration with the parish priest, Jacqui led a small group of parishioners and seekers through the RCIA journey. The following is her account of the process that she and Father Thanh developed to invite parish participation.

Meeting 1: Invite, encourage, inform

We set up an initial meeting for anyone who wanted to ‘come and see’ what was involved in being a part of an RCIA team. People were invited in a number of ways:
  • through advertising in the parish bulletin
  • by Father Thanh (or the pastoral associate or other leaders) making announcements at all masses
  • through personal invitation—identifying people who might have the necessary skills and interest and ‘tapping them on the shoulder’.
At this meeting, the group prayed, spoke about their experience and service in the parish and beyond, why they had responded to the invitation, and what they might bring.
 
I shared an outline of the journey we would undertake (see below), as well as an overview of how the RCIA journey fits into the liturgical seasons of the church.
 
 
 
I reminded everyone that the RCIA isn’t a course to ‘produce Catholics’ or to get people ‘done’, but rather a journey we would all undertake to accompany people interested in finding out more about the Catholic Church. People would bring with them unique life experiences, including very different understandings of God and religion, and this would influence our approach and choice of resources.
 
The group would need to be clear about where it was headed, but at every step, each pilgrim would be invited to share where they were in their journey and how they were feeling. No one would be coerced to commit to the next stage in the RCIA journey before they were ready. We would also need to be open to the fact that at any time in the journey, someone might decide it wasn’t for them and leave.
 
We concluded this first meeting by modelling a form of scripture catechesis (reading a gospel story and sharing our responses to it). This would be an essential component of the RCIA journey. We used the Exploring the Word catechumenate resource from The Summit Online.
 

Meeting 2: Where do I fit in?

After opening with prayer, we spoke about the desired qualities of an RCIA team member, as well as the different roles each team member would need to play.
 
Father Thanh shared some information about the people who had already approached the parish about RCIA—our enquirers.
 
We discussed hosting an ‘enquiry evening’ and how we might invite more people to come along. We decided that the evening would be advertised through the parish primary school newsletter, a notice in the parish bulletin, a sign out the front of the church and the local newspaper.

Again, we used the Exploring the Word catechumenate resource to read and discuss the gospel of the week.
 
We finished our meeting with a clearer idea of what we were undertaking and an invitation to commit to the task ahead. 
 

Meeting 3: Who’s in?

We began our meeting with prayer and used the Exploring the Word catechumenate resource to discuss the weekly gospel.

The purpose of this third meeting was to finalise what we would need for the enquiry evening (content, presenters, the roles each of us would take on). It was also about revisiting our goals as a group and ensuring everything was in place for the journey ahead. As a group, it was important to understand that the goal was not to increase numbers or even to stick to timelines, but that we were offering this invitation to the wider community as the first step in understanding what it means to become an RCIA parish.

We finished with spontaneous prayer of petition and thanksgiving (e.g. ‘Lord, hear us. Lord, hear our prayer’).
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