Community and Catechesis

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At the moment, in the Bible Timeline series, we’re looking at how God formed his People, at the foot of Mount Sinai, for a year, after they’d left Egypt. They had to learn how to live as a ‘redeemed people’. It has struck me as key to how God forms us. I have noticed – in the catechetical programmes in the parish – how important it is that God forms us as a People, together. Why would I notice this specifically? I mean, isn’t it important that he forms us in true teaching, in how to worship him in liturgy, in how to pray? Is it really important he should form us as a community? Isn’t this something for hand-holding hippies?

Often today, not being able to find sources of nourishment for our faith in our parishes, we can become isolated – we learn from blogs, books, online conversations. All these are good, but I don’t think they come anywhere close to the real deal – formation together in community. I believe this is what God truly desires and intends for us. Here are some things I have noticed recently:

1. Formation together builds community among people who would never normally spend time together. The Bible Study in our parish is going strong. People who barely spoke two words to each other a couple of months ago now arrive early to help make coffee and tea, stay late to chat and put chairs away. This evening, I looked around the room at the end of the evening. There were lots of different huddles of people chatting – nothing remarkable you might think. But I noticed that (1) they are all very different – they would not naturally be together; and (2) they are chatting on the whole about faith and what they are discovering and how they are growing. This is truly amazing. I would guess there is a high number of people in stages of openness, spiritual seeking, and intentional discipleship. Online, we tend to ‘hang out’ with people with the same outlook. In the parish, we don’t have that luxury. The Church really is “here comes everybody.” It is really a place to love others.

2. Community is built when people have opportunities to exercise their charisms. We didn’t do much planning beforehand about who would look after hospitality, administration, etc. But now, looking around the room before the session, people have arrived early to help out in the way they (super)naturally feel called. Most of them don’t know anything yet about charisms, but they are using them. Again – it is amazing this is happening. Normally, you need to beg for volunteers, but somehow we’re finding that people are moving out of a consumer mentality and into an ownership mentality.

3. Creating a buzzing community for enquirers is essential. I’ve mentioned before that, in our RCIA enquiry sessions, we purposefully limit them to one hour. It means that people leave hungry for more. What does this mean in practice? It means they don’t go rushing out the door as soon as the clock strikes eight! At last week’s session, I looked around the room half an hour after the session had finished, and almost all the enquirers were still there! Chatting with each other, with sponsors, catechists. We always end with a testimony which awakens questions right at the end and somehow causes people to stay. Some of the best formation happens in casual conversations after the session has finished. I chatted with a young man last week who, in the first few weeks, had hurried off at the end. He said he’d been really unsure why he was there at all. Now he was totally relaxed, clearly wanting to talk longer and hear more.

Perhaps you’re still sceptical about spending time with people in your parish. Perhaps they think differently from you, live differently from you. I would challenge you to see beyond that and see what formation opportunities you can offer to bring people together. Make sure there’s a social element; do all that you can to create an atmosphere where people are less likely to run off at the end. I believe this might be one of the keys to renewing our parishes.

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