How do you know that what you’re doing is working?

Would we be more successful doing catechesis in a pub?

Would we be more successful doing catechesis in a pub?

It was a moment of doubt. I was sitting in the pub, waiting for a couple of our RCIA candidates to turn up, flicking through posts in the Forming Intentional Disciples Forum on my phone. Wondering whether perhaps, even though they’d enthusiastically asked if we could meet a couple of days ago, they wouldn’t appear, and I would be left there thinking: How do you know that what you’re doing is working? 

In fact, they did show up. Our conversations that evening ranged from other religions to reiki, and from the human soul to ouija boards. As we chatted, it dawned on me. What can happen in a pub, in a relaxed environment with a few drinks and some nachos, is far more than what we can achieve each week in a cold church hall on hard seats with bad coffee (actually, I take that back, I’ve ‘banned’ bad coffee). I still think that ‘formal’ catechesis is needed (because it’s part of our Tradition since the earliest days, because I’ve seen it work, because it’s the normal model for handing on the faith) but perhaps this catechesis needs to be small islands within a sea of ongoing human connections, community, relationships…

In truth, our conversation revealed far more to me about these few people than I’ve realised in several months of weekly meetings. Their honesty reached a new level, they were open and real. And in glimpsing this reality, I realised we needed to do much, much more to form disciples…

It made me realise what is really needed for an RCIA process to work. I started mentally counting everything: first and foremost, an army of intercessors (which we don’t have); we need those with charisms of evangelism who will invite our catechumens to the pub, those with charisms of hospitality who’ll have them for dinner in their homes. In catechesis itself, we need people with proven charisms of teaching, who also live and love the Faith. We need to create opportunities for prayer ministry, for healing and prophetic words, where those carrying great burdens can be reached by God. We need those with charisms of knowledge who will stay and discuss at length the pressing questions of those on an in-depth intellectual search. We need those with a charism of service to invite candidates to serve the poor and homeless with them, to introduce them to Christian service. We need those with a charism of mercy to reach out to those catechumens and candidates who are lost and broken. We need those with pastoring charisms who will shepherd and care for these people in small groups.

No – our once-a-week, teaching in a church hall model does not cut it. It will not form disciples. Even if the teaching is good (and sometimes it’s not) and the doctrine sound (occasionally iffy).

Right now, part of me has to accept this, knowing that we do not have the workforce or the desire needed. It breaks my heart because I have a ‘vision’ of what we need. But unless I can ‘cast’ this vision to others – to increase their desire and generosity – this is a reality which seems beyond our reach.

But then I remember this…

“A great crowd had gathered, and they had nothing to eat. So Jesus called his disciples to him and said to them, ‘I feel sorry for all these people; they have been with me for three days now and have nothing to eat. If I send them off home hungry they will collapse on the way; some have come a great distance.’ His disciples replied, ‘Where could anyone get bread to feed these people in a deserted place like this?’

You know the next bit… From seven loaves and a few small fish,

“They ate as much as they wanted and they collected seven basketfuls of the scraps left over.” (Mark 8:1-10)

Surely, if I show an inch of faith, he will multiply… He will provide.

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9 Responses

  1. Alex says:

    I think you’re wrong about the army of intercessors. Maybe they aren’t specific intercessors, but there is an army. And the other thing is that we have to keep remembering we are only a small part of this. God is really the one doing the work. OK, so in an ideal world we’d have all these other things, but the world is not ideal, the place our apostolate live and work and go to school is not ideal. But we do the best we have with what we’ve got, for the people in front of us. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

    • Alex says:

      Which now, having re-read the end of your post, I realise was exactly the point you were making! Sorry. It is hard to remember though. God knows we need these little moments of encouragement, and allows them for us.

  2. Marianne Roberts says:

    HI, I read about you including adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in your confirmation preparation so I wondered wherher I should include it for children preparing for their First Holy Communion . Yesterday we had our session on prayer and we took them into the church at the end and I was amazed to see these lively 8 year olds quietly kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament for 3 minutes at least.

  3. teresakehoe says:

    You’re absolutely right Hannah, in every respect!

  4. Deacon Wayne says:

    You are doing a great job, Hannah. Your energy is really inspiring and your achievements greater than you give yourself credit for. You are already on the path described by St Francis of Assisi : “Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible !”

    Disciples are formed over time more frequently than before our eyes. But it’s often the mustard seed that we sow in our catechesis or evangelisation that in time becomes the bush that provides future shade and shelter to more beneficiaries than we could have imagined was possible.

    God bless, Wayne

  5. Anne-Marie Kershaw says:

    Hi Hannah
    I hear you! You have put down all the thoughts i have been having over the years with RCIA and Catechesis. There is such a lot to do. Do you think you could do something with the RCIA year that you did with Confirmation preparation?! We don’t even have an RCIA in our parish at the moment. We do have Alpha though and are trialling home groups. Would love to meet with you in a pub so time soon to mull over ideas. Any chance you might be coming to Celebrate in Ilfracombe Easter week? There are still adult places available. 1000+ going! more than half under 25. Check the website http://www.celebrateconference.org
    Best wishes, Anne-Marie

  6. What an excellent post! Thank you for both the challenge and the little coda of hope! I’m going to share this with my RCIA ministry partners!

  7. Ann Couper-Johnston says:

    There were only 12 disciples, and only 6 Jesuits ….. to start with.

    As to prayer, it may be happening where you don’t see it. Elijah thought he was the only true prophet left (and was so down he was suicidal) but the Lord showed him there were more than he thought.

    May the blood of the martyrs of the East be the seed of a return to the Church in the West!

    I agree with the coffee shop as a better place than the Church hall – I’ve got this little dream of a Dummies Guide to the Catholic Church in our local one ……. with plenty of coffee to keep the management happy!

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