The Catechumenate in the Midst of Tumult

We just celebrated Pentecost.  The Holy Spirit inbreathed life and vitality into a small band of Jesus’ disciples, into the Church.  At the same time, we observed a National Day of Mourning and Lament (in the United States) as we remembered COVID-19 deaths of over 100,000 people in the US and over 350,000 world-wide.  Add to this the police killing of yet another black man and the cries of so many who suffer under racism.  What do these contrasting realities have to do with the catechumenate?  Everything.

I think back to the early church.   Church leaders were struggling with how to help people cross the chasm between the Roman culture and the Christian Way. The first exalted spectacles of mass killings; the second, the way of compassion and life.  Over time, early church leaders developed the catechumenate.  It became the bridge for those seeking to walk the way of Christ in the midst of a secular society.  They needed a concentrated time of mentoring, teaching and prayer to be able to exhale all that led to death and to let the Spirit inbreathe the Way of Christ.  Early church leaders planted and nourished the faith in those catechumens.  Through entry into the church the newly baptized joined their fellow Christians to face the headwinds of domination, persecution and turmoil.

Today the tumultuous headwinds are equally strong.  The pandemic has literally taken the breath away from hundreds of thousands.   The demonic and devaluing power of racism still suffocates.  Many are fearful.  Some will seek an answer through faith.  The catechumenate is a process that provides a deep grounding in the Christian way of love.  The catechumenate reveals the stark contrast between following Jesus and following the crowd.  The catechumenate gives a footing to face a turbulent future.  It keeps before us the reality that each breath we take is a gift from the Spirit.  It makes real the words of Paul, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8: 38-39)  We need the catechumenate now more than ever.

Charles Mantey
Charles is a member of the JBL Board

A Rite of Blessing during the Pandemic

How do we pray for our catechumens and candidates during this time of remote, virtual services?  Here is one suggestion adapted from the RCIA:


(After the homily or after the Prayers of the People, a presbyter addresses everyone but especially those preparing for initiation.)


PM: Although both catechumens and candidates of our congregation (N&N&N) have been called to celebrate the sacraments of full initiation into the Church, that celebration has been delayed and their preparation continues.

It is our joy and our responsibility then to continue our prayers for them that Christ may more and more fill their minds with his truth and their hearts with his love.


AM: I now invite all those whom God has chosen and called to grow in faith to bow their heads and pray for God’s blessing.  I invite their sponsor or someone with them, if possible, to lay a hand upon their shoulder.  Let us all raise a hand in blessing over them.

Prayer of Blessing

PM: Let us pray.

God of power and grace,  it is your will to renew everything in Christ and to draw us into his all-embracing love.  Guide these whom you have chosen (N&N&N); strengthen them in their vocation; build them more and more into the kingdom of your Son, and seal them with all the gifts of your promised Spirit.   We ask this through Christ our Lord

All: Amen.

Adapted from RCIA 559B

Michael Marchal, JBL Board Member 

Our friends at TeamRCIA ( numerous suggestions on how to adapt your catechumenate meetings and rites for remote ministry.

Discernment and the Adult Catechumenate

It is always a joy when new things emerge that you did not anticipate. One might call these experiences synchronicity, others might refer to them as graced moments.

Recently, I was able to experience a week long training for Listening Hearts.The focus of this week is to practically learn how to ‘discern call in community”.This model and process for group spiritual discernment is a unique blending of Quaker, Ignatian and Benedictine spiritualities. While the background and process of communal discernment is clearly outlined in the book of the same name, the experience of practicing and experiencing it in a cohort of fellow pilgrims is beyond what can be expressed in the printed word. This is especially true in that each participant is asked to bring a real issue for discernment from their life to the training experience. Somethings cannot be role played – communal discernment needs to be experienced to be integrated into one’s heart and life. At the end of the time together, not only do you experience the reality of a genuine community of faith but you also have a sense of empowerment to train others in this pastoral skill. This is the first element of a coming together of two elements into a surprising third.

The second element is the Adult Catechumenate, the process of conversion and initiation into the Christian community that is rooted in the early church of the first three centuries. One valuable resource for this ancient yet ever new process is Go Make Disciples: A Handbook to the Catechumenate. One of the elements explored in this wonderful resource is the stages of the catechumenate that are experienced over time. Discernment is relevant to the catechumenate journey on a number of occasions: readiness to move from inquiry to enrollment, from enrollment to Baptism / Confirmation / Reception and after that to living one’s Baptism out in one’s vocation and daily life. While discernment is referred to in a variety of resources for the catechumenate, exactly “how to” go about discernment is not usually spelled out in the vast majority of resources offered for the catechumenate. This is where the Listening Hearts process is a real gift. It provides a practical pastoral way for discernment to occur in a small group setting within the catechumenate process.

A number of important things have been discovered by accident: X – Rays, Velcro, the Microwave Oven, and Play-Doh to name just a few. One of my most recent accidental discoveries is the integration of the Listening Hearts communal discernment process and the Adult Catechumenate process. Eureka!

Larry Ehren

Episcopal Priest, Catechist for Baptized for Life, VP Journey to Baptismal Living

No Need to be Overwhelmed

Sometimes a presentation on the process of the Catechumenate can lead to an initial feeling of being     overwhelmed.  Perhaps it feels like an “all or nothing” situation and the reasons not to proceed (excuses?) come out.  “We don’t see any adults asking for baptism.”  “We don’t have enough volunteers who aren’t already overcommitted.” “When will all the other work of keeping a church going be accomplished if we do all this?”

These might be the moments to think about the popular notion: “doing something is better than doing nothing at all.”

In an active suburban Anglican congregation in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, some participants of the congregation – many participants of EFM (Education for Ministry Program) – were convinced to take part in a special off-campus course in the Catechumenate offered by the local theological school.  At the conclusion most felt daunted by what they had heard.  Although convinced of its merit, it was hard to imagine how on earth they would even get started.   But, it is a congregation that sees a relative frequency of baptisms for infants and young children.  Much of the time, the congregation was surprised by these baptisms, not knowing the families involved and having the sense that they would never see them again.  What about – as a first step – introducing some “catechumenate” elements to what is happening here? Things like: parish sponsors to accompany the family along the journey of preparation; including the adapted rites of Welcome and Enrollment spaced out over the weeks preceding the scheduled baptism; reserving baptism to key and meaningful moments in the Church’s calendar year; pamphlets for everyone who approached the priest with a request for baptism, describing the congregational discipline of preparing for baptismal action as an incremental journey and work towards a new life in Jesus life, death and resurrection.

Following the first experience of these additions of catechumenal style and process, comments are already emerging from the whole congregation.  Baptism is raised to a new level of meaning.  There is incremental engagement between congregation and baptism families from first meeting to the day of baptism and beyond.  It has all been relatively easy to begin.  The first steps are bound to lead deeper and beyond.  Pray for the courage and the faith to just begin to do something.

The Rev. Canon Greg Smith is Director of Field Education at Huron University College, Faculty of Theology, London, Ontario, Canada and Honourary Assistant at St. Aidan’s Anglican Church, London.

Awesome Glory–A Good Read before Holy Week

Review by Jerry Pare’, JBL Board Member….

In Awesome Glory Abbot Jeremy Driscoll, O.S.B. of Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon has given us a gem for gleaning insights into the theology and liturgy of the Triduum and Eastertide.  Dom Driscoll has written popular books such as What Happens at Mass and scholarly works such as Theology at the Eucharistic TableAwesome Glory is somewhere between scholarly tome and a popular theological read.

Awesome Glory contains two parts.  The first is an examination of theological terms used in discussions of the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.  This section lays the theological foundation for Part Two, an exegesis and commentary on the readings and the rituals enacted in the course of the Triduum, Easter and Eastertide liturgies.  There are many commentaries on the Triduum and Easter Sunday liturgies.  There are significantly fewer that continue by examining the Easter Octave, Ascension Thursday and Pentecost, especially in more popular works on the Paschal season and Pentecost.

It would be difficult to understand Abbot Jeremy’s liturgical exegesis and commentary without carefully reading Part 1, “A Summary of the Proclamation in Theological Terms.”  Here, Driscoll focuses on the expression Paschal Mystery,” a term that “enables us to say all at once:  death, resurrection, ascension, sending of the Spirit, and establishing the church” (p. 9).  In this context, the analysis of two meanings of pasch is fundamental to understanding the rest of Awesome GloryPasch means both passion/Passover (Ex 12) and passage (Ex 14).  “The Triduum liturgies are a wonderful, intricate web of paschal themes taken from Exodus 12 and 14.” (p. 12)  Driscoll then uses the dual meaning of pasch, as expressed in Paschal Mystery, in Part Two, the examination of the liturgies of this central period of the Church year.

Abbot Jeremy notes in the dedicaton of Awesome Glory that it is for the monks of Mt. Angel Abbey.  Rather, it is for all of us who are interested in a better insight of the Triduum and all of Easter.  Read it now to enhance your understanding of our journey through the celebration of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection.

A message for your inquirers

By Charles Mantey, JBL Board Member

So, you have wondered about the Christian faith and have been asked to come to a gathering to talk about your concerns. It may be at a church or at the coffee shop or maybe even at the local bar. You may wonder what is going to happen there. Will I be put on the spot or be lectured to? 

Rest easy. What you will experience is a time where you will have a chance to ask your questions, tell a little bit about yourself and begin an exploration that will lead to a deepening of faith whether through baptism or affirmation of baptism. This is the first part of the catechumenal process called Inquiry. You will not be pressured into making any decision. Only listen for what God might be calling you to be and to do in your life. You may take as much time as you like. 

The primary element you will find in Inquiry is hospitality. You may have little or no church background, or you may come from quite a different faith expression. No matter who you are, you will find a warm welcome to the community and a time to ask whatever questions you may have. You may not get the answers you want right away but be patient, there’s a distance to go. At this stage of the journey, a listening ear is more important than the right answer. Finally, don’t worry about how much you know or don’t know about the Christian faith. All your questions and comments will be honored. 

You will have an opportunity if you like to tell your own story. As others tell their story, community may begin to happen. Leaders will also share a bit of their personal stories and together you will get to know each other and feel more comfortable in asking those really important questions that you may have. 

One thing that you can count on: you will be prayed for as you seek God’s will in your life. Hang on tight! Your journey is just beginning

From Affirmation to Transformation: Our Journey

By Terry Martinez, JBL Board Member

“Our faith is formed by the practices that shape it.”

Our Pastor, the Rev. Dr. Christopher Q. James, was searching for ways to help a congregation recover its baptismal identity – never fully formed due to the diminishment of sacramental practice in the larger Presbyterian/Reform tradition. “I was committed to planning and leading worship that was centered around the font on a weekly basis. I wanted to help the congregation understand how its ongoing life is continually formed by these sacramental waters,” he said.

“The changes I was making in worship were important, but were not enough by themselves. I had heard about the Catechumenate for several years, but knew it was such a wholesale paradigm shift in the way we ‘do church’ that I was waiting for the right moment and prayed that I would recognize it when it came.” That time came in 2015 when a small leadership team was formed to explore the Catechumenate and see if this was right for our church. From this process THE JOURNEY was born!

We were surprised when 16 travelers signed up for the first session: further evidence that the time was right. Since then, we have offered five sessions of THE JOURNEY. 71 members have participated as a traveler/companion. Of those 71, 12 have become new active members of the life of New Hope and various ministries outside the church.

THE JOURNEY has transformed New Hope! We have become a stronger, nurturing and welcoming community. Our outreach and missions, both in New Hope and the church universal, are more meaningful. Most importantly, as the Rev. James puts it, “The Catechumenate has taught our congregation that not only is it okay to have questions about faith, but nurturing those questions in a safe and inviting space leads to deeper, stronger faith and deeper stronger relationships among one another.”

Asked if he would recommend the Catechumenate to other congregations, the Rev. James said, “The Catechumenate takes tremendous effort, time and patience. It’s messy. It is completely different from the way we are used to ‘doing church.’ It takes commitment to let it grow and to learn from it over the course of time. I would recommend it because it will change you. I would also be cautious to recommend it because it will change you.”

New Hope Presbyterian Church is excited to be hosting an Adult Catechumenate Training in October and sharing our stories with others. Click here for information on the training.

THE JOURNEY is the most significant contribution I have helped to bring to our congregation in my 17+ years as its pastor. Of all the ways pastors work to equip and empower the members of the congregation for ministry, I believe THE JOURNEY has done so the most.” – the Rev. Dr. Christopher Q.  James

A Seminarian Reflects on the Catechumenate

By Pam Gompf

I have been doing some thinking about my seminary education.  I have enjoyed my classwork and the insights I’ve gained from fellow students and professors.  I hope that my life experience of raising three children and working as a youth minister over a decade will come through in preaching and teaching.  I know the Spirit has been at work in me for some time now and have been pleasantly surprised at how it has spoken to me, particularly in my internship.

I was placed in a church that had practiced the catechumenate for a number of years.  Much of my own history with the Church had been with new member programs. Sometimes it was a conversation with the pastor and brunch with a welcoming committee.  The church I was placed in was intentional about its missional call to baptism and welcome. When the process began in the Fall, I became knee-deep in one of the small groups. I found that it was not only welcoming seekers and newcomers, but also me.

The congregation was beginning to know me. I shared more and more about my own background. Being part of a small group and occasionally leading it, allowed me to listen to them more closely.

Through weekly Bible studies and rites, I noticed things, but it was at the Easter Vigil that I was overcome.  It was the huge community turnout.  The baptismal font was filled by the community of believers who process forward, pouring water they have brought from home in a special container signifying their own faith journey.  I thought this “font” (a horse trough!) might overflow.

Isn’t that what the grace of God does? Literally. It overflows for us; washes over us and makes us clean and whole again; renews and redeems each of us. Witnessing a full year’s journey of the Catechumenate moving towards the Easter Vigil, felt like a family throwing a welcoming party. Not only did the waters of baptism overflow, but so did my own tears of gratitude.

I can’t imagine any other way of welcoming new members into the Body of Christ than the Catechumenate. There is still food and shaking of hands like other faith communities. There is still the naming before all as new members. But this is different. This is coming home. Finally coming home; and everyone rejoices.

Pam Gompf served as Vicar 2018-19 at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church and is now awaiting call in the Pacific Northwest Synod of the ELCA.

Eastertime Lessons & the Christian Life

By Michael Marchal, JBL Board Member

A primary link with the ancient world in our catechumenal practice occurs in Cycle A when the three Johannine stories of the Woman at the Well, the Man Born Blind, and the Raising of Lazarus are proclaimed on the middle Sundays in Lent. These stories have been the core of the period of intense preparation since the 3rd Century. The baptismal candidates are asked to see in the characters of these stories as a reflection of and a challenge for their own developing relationship with Jesus.

The late 20th Century reform of the lectionary has also meant that the Sundays of Eastertime are now more closely related to the process of postbaptismal reflection called mystagogy. These Gospels can be our guide for this crucial component in the process.

On the 2nd Sunday of Easter the gospel of Doubting Thomas shows how the man most resistant to belief became the most ardent believer through his personal encounter with the risen Jesus. The 3d Sunday’s Gospel about the risen Lord’s encounter with the community in the context of a meal is a reminder that the Eucharist is the primary focus of our shared encounter with his living presence. The 4th Sunday’s Gospel portrays Jesus as the Good Shepherd who guides and feeds his flock now and into eternity.

The first four Sundays of Easter thus ask the newly-baptized to reflect upon what they have experienced during that sacramental celebration and how it continues to affect their life of prayer and worship. Yet the Good Shepherd image segues into the other task of mystagogy—how will the new life of grace that they now share be lived out more fully? The final four Sundays which read from the Last Supper discourse open up for them the love and peace which are the signs that mark an authentic Christian life.

Team Grows with Creative Faith Timeline

By Lance Georgeson, JBL Board Member

Certainly one of the most impactful exercises in early sessions of the catechumenate is the “faith timeline”.  We have consistently found that this fosters a sense of intimacy in the small group and sets the tone for the entire process:  both Candidates and Sponsors begin to see that their stories are connected with God’s story of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

However, it became clear before a Team retreat that we had never shared our faith timelines with each other as a group.  We may have heard bits and pieces, but we’d never sat and listened to one another.

Enter two Team members using a different approach:  Donna, an art therapist for over 30 years and Tina, a college education professor for roughly the same duration.  These two women used their gifts to approach this exercise in a new and creative way.

Tina began by reading and showing the picture book, “How Sweet the Sound:  The Story of Amazing Grace”.  The book was appropriately chosen, and at the conclusion we were asked to reflect in writing on the theme.  It felt like we were children again gathered in a circle . . . perhaps the best introduction to the next activity.

Donna had brought an incredible amount of materials used in her art therapy:  construction paper, glue, beads and ribbon.  We were tasked to tell our story in symbol or picture any way we could, using the materials at hand.  For those of us who are “artistically challenged” this would normally be almost threatening, but Donna’s words about “anything goes” helped us to begin cutting and pasting.

The results were wonderful!  The diversity in pictures was inspiring – from very simple to complex and sophisticated.  The explanations behind the graphics were heartfelt and moving.  It became apparent that just the use of different medium allowed many of us to express both struggles and joys beyond the use of words and text.

One of the great gifts of the catechumenate is that it’s a process that is adaptable, centered around a few key principles and beliefs.   A critical aspect is to allow the Spirit to move in creativity, such as it did that day with Donna and Tina in a new approach to a familiar activity.

Lance Georgeson is on the mission team for the catechumenate at Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church and serves on the JBL Board.