Why we’re not putting on any catechetical programmes…
… right now 😉
(That’s the important qualifier, so don’t think I’m going all ‘catechetical lite’ on you…)
There’s a temptation when you arrive in a new parish to start thinking of what programmes you could offer. There are fantastic options out there, from Catholicism to Unlocking the Mystery of the Bible, both of which I heartily recommend. Perhaps we realise that the parish we’ve arrived in has rarely had an adult formation programme of any kind. The temptation is to jump straight in and grab some of that “low-hanging fruit” – an attractive Bible Study or catechetical series would surely draw a small crowd. Besides, you recognise all around you the need for formation, and one of these programmes would lead to some quick-fix solutions.
And yet, here in Richmond, we are purposefully not doing anything of the kind. We’re holding back.
No, we haven’t gone all light and fluffy, “people don’t need to know the faith, they just need to love Jesus.” No, my friend. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
To explain, I’m going to refer to the thresholds of conversion that Sherry Weddell explains in Forming Intentional Disciples. I’ve written a little about these here and here, but for the full lowdown if you’re not familiar with them, it is well worth reading about the thresholds of conversion from p.129 onwards in the book. (Otherwise the rest of this will make little sense.)
One of the biggest questions we have been asking ourselves (the parish priest and the small parish team), is “what threshold of conversion are the majority of people in our parish at?” From conversations and observations, we estimate “trust”, or even pre-trust. Our membership engagement survey also gave us a lot of data which would support this estimation.
If this is the culture we are currently faced with, then our first steps need to be careful and well thought through. In this culture, what would be the effect of offering an adult catechetical programme? My guess is that the following thoughts would go through the heads of the 90% of people in our parish who are at “pre-trust” or “trust”:
- “That’s nice – Father’s putting on something for the holy joes to enjoy.”
- “Definitely not for me – I’m not that religious.”
- “I’m sure those with more time will enjoy that, like the retired. I don’t have time to give to this kind of thing right now.”
My guess would be that these people might then switch off altogether to anything else that was offered – at whatever level – in terms of formation. They would decide that none of this was “for them”; they would skip over these sections of the newsletter and stay content in the knowledge that they went to Mass every week – just like the other 90% – and that was good enough. A few folks took things a bit more seriously, but that was up to them.
Can you see how easily this happens, how people can fall into this mentality? I would hazard a guess that this mentality pervades our parishes like a toxic gas we can’t work out how to eradicate.
I’m not saying we have any answers at this stage because we don’t. But we are trying a different approach. All our offerings and communications at this stage are aimed at those in “trust” or “pre-trust”. We are offering At Homes in different parishioners’ homes around the neighbourhood (read more here). It is pretty hard to exclude yourself from something as non-threatening as a glass of Prosecco in your neighbour’s house on the grounds that you’re “not that religious”. We’re casting the net wide, and yet, planning the next stage, when we will look towards a more explicitly evangelistic approach.
And yes, as soon as people begin to encounter Christ, and pursue the idea of completely following him, there will be all the catechesis that is needed to help them mature and grow as disciples. Abundant catechesis! But… just not yet.