There is no congregational rite to begin inquiry, this first phase of the catechumenal process. However, when a seeker is coming to the end of inquiry, when they show the beginnings of real faith in Christ and a desire to walk in his Way, then they have reached a threshold and need a public ritual that locates them and their search within the context of the community.
There are various names for this ritual: RC — Accepting a Catechumen, ELCA – Welcome to Baptism, ELCIC – Welcome of Those Preparing for Baptism, TEC – Admission of Catechumens, ACC – Welcoming Inquirers, UMC – Welcoming Hearers. One of the ancient titles for the rite was ad faciendum catechumenum, a rite for making a catechumen. That title brings out an important point about what is happening in this rite. Just as we cannot baptize ourselves, so we cannot make ourselves a catechumen/hearer. Rather, we present ourselves to the Christian community for acceptance and prayer as our journey continues.
Too often we who live in the remnants of Christendom in North America still presume an exposure to and an understanding of Christianity that is lacking. Moreover, we do not want to be inhospitable so we gloss over the need for a serious commitment on the part of the seeker and on the part of the community. These days an adult seeker might be looking for a serious transformation of mind, heart, and lifestyle as they come to live within a congregation.
In JBL discussions, while assembling the ecumenical composite rites (Cf. journeytobaptism.org Resources – Worship Resources- Ecumenical Rites), we chose not to use the term “welcome” for this rite since it seemed too vague: what is the seeker being welcomed to? We also thought that “catechumen” was too elaborate. The straightforward word “hearer” seemed most appropriate. “Hearer” describes the core of this phase of the catechumenal process that the inquirer was entering. Now they would be directly challenged, week-by-week, to let the Word take root in their hearts and bear good fruit in their lives.
We also chose to emphasize the head-to-toe signing with the cross as an excellent example of “truth-in-advertising.” Walking the Way with Jesus will bring each of us to our cross.
As the time draws near for your community to celebrate this rite with seekers of Baptism this year, you will find a discussion of the new “Ecumenical Rite of Receiving Hearers” helpful. JBL is offering a “Community Chat” on this ecumenical rite on October 27 at both 6:00 and 8:00 pm CST. Choose whichever time is best for you. Register at [email protected] ; put “Community Chat” in the Subject line and your name, phone number and time preference in the body of the email. We will send you a Zoom link near the date of the Chat.