In this installment of “Working in the Vineyard,” Pray Tell presents TeamRCIA of San Jose, California.
How long has Team RCIA been around? Tell us about your founding vision and primary work.
We started TeamRCIA in 2007. At the time, there wasn’t any online support for catechumenate ministers. We noticed how business leaders were using the internet to share and connect, not just with their customers but also with each other. We thought parish ministers and volunteers could certainly do the same. So we started a blog—a web journal—to create an online community of people who are passionate about sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ through parish initiation ministry. Today, we provide accessible and effective catechumenate resources and trainings that help parish teams initiate and form disciples for Christ’s mission. TeamRCIA is now a community of over 20,000 parish ministers and volunteers throughout North America and beyond.
How is your RCIA work important in responding to declining church attendance and the reduced influence of organized religion today?
We take seriously Pope Francis’s metaphor for the church as a field hospital. Pope Francis says we have to go out to those who are bleeding and bind up their wounds. He says that when we encounter someone who is bleeding out, it doesn’t make any sense to check their cholesterol levels and ask about their diet. We see our work as encouraging catechumenate ministers (and by extension, their parishioners) to get out from behind the walls of the church and to encounter those who are on the peripheries of society. Focusing on church attendance and institutional influence is a bit like checking cholesterol levels and advocating for a healthy diet. These things are important, but they are not our first priority. Our work is important in that we support parishes in their mission to announce the first proclamation of Jesus’s love and salvation to seekers.
How do you announce that proclamation during a time of such rapid change?
Well, actually our mission is to accompany those whose vocation it is to accompany seekers on the journey of faith. The church’s process for evangelizing and catechizing those who long for something more in their lives is the catechumenate. Its sacramental form is the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults. We help parish leaders and volunteers understand how to lead seekers on a conversion journey regardless of the circumstances of either the seeker or the minister. The principles of the catechumenate are unchanging. The circumstances in which they are enacted change every time we meet a new seeker.
Are you doing things to extend your reach? Do you have plans, or hopes, for growth?
As is true for most folks, the COVID-19 pandemic upended everything. Before the pandemic, we were doing about 15 diocesan trainings a year. That all ended when the country was shut down in March 2020. Fortunately, we had previously developed a long-term plan to create a more robust online membership, through which catechumenate ministers could receive an in-depth and comprehensive training in this ministry. The pandemic accelerated our timeline for making that transition. We are still refining the process. The core structure consists of a series of training cornerstones that will help catechumenate ministers feel more confident in their work, help them discern the movement of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the seekers they encounter, and help them experience more joy in this ministry by eliminating the obstacles that cause stress.
What is the most important contribution TeamRCIA is making to the life of the church?
In 1977, Aidan Kavanagh, OSB, said that many people who were just then learning about the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults thought the new rite would be difficult, even impossible, to implement. He said they were correct. Because what they were looking for was improved rubrics. And what the initiation rites call for, said Kavanagh, is “a restored and unified vision of the church.” What we do in our ministry at TeamRCIA is describe and advocate for that restored and unified vision.
What else do you want Pray Tell readers to know about TeamRCIA?
Since we began this ministry in 2007, we have been encouraging parish leaders and volunteers to claim their baptismal priesthood and take action to proclaim the gospel. So we were excited when Pope Francis launched the recent “synod on synodality.” The word “synodality” is a bit out of our daily usage, but the concept is what we have been promoting to our community.
Just by gathering as a catechumenate community — the parish team, the sponsors, the seekers — and listening to the Holy Spirit and each other, we will be shaping and leading the mission of the church. We will be building the future of the church.
At first glance, listening to the Spirit in just our own small groups may seem insignificant. But we ask folks to remember that time when they had only one seeker. Or even no seekers. That’s happened to a lot of us. And never did we think our ministry was insignificant. We know that the Holy Spirit most often works in whispers and gentle breezes.
If we can do that one, simple thing — listen to the Holy Spirit and each other — everything changes.
TeamRCIA brings this profound gift and tool of listening to our shared life in the church. As RCIA undergoes revisions, be sure to check out TeamRCIA for all the latest in forming Christian community.
Images taken from TeamRCIA’s website: TeamRCIA’s logo; promotional graphic “A path to becoming a master evangelist;” a large group photograph of a parish community.