Still thinking about catechesis and spiritual growth

Whenever (like last post) I think about the idea of reintroducing some sort of period of training or waiting for new Christians before (and even after!) getting baptised — catechesis or even the catechumenate — I start thinking about two things:

  1. What educational resources could I make? What already exists?
  2. Information is not enough. We need to make this about people entering into the school of the Lord

There is lots of stuff out there for Number 1 (would my own Anglo-Patristic catechesis be superfluous, then?), both in terms of basic introductions such as Alpha and Christianity Explored and in terms of spiritual growth like the Church of England’s Pilgrim Course (depending how you cut it, all three of those are from the C of E!). There are also readable books for topics you might want new Christians to get into, and I’m sure a lot of pastors and parishioners who read could work on getting these sorted for one’s own congregation.

What I don’t think we can really plan in any such endeavours, however, is the growth of people who take the course and their developing commitment to Jesus. And that’s really what matters. Who cares if you are well-informed about Christianity and its doctrines if you aren’t abiding deeply with its Lord Christ?

What we can plan, however, is what any committed disciples do in terms of discipling the undiscipled. Say your church is running a course for new believers either as a preparation for baptism or some other membership event. Something beyond just volunteering on a Wednesday night, right?

People first and foremost need to be deeply invested in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And then all-in in terms of seeing new disciples made. And then invested in the knowledge being imparted in the course. And then — pray!

Actually, let’s backtrack a bit.

Prayer and Scripture-reading are the two bedrock spiritual disciplines. Let’s assume these as daily practices for the people coming alongside the catechumens.

What if everyone involved in a catechetical course was also fasting as part of their intercession for the new believers? And praying for them every day. Or, even bigger, what if a congregation went through a big shift so that everyone had a rule of life and was committed to spiritual disciplines, and then catechesis of new believers grew out of that?

Well, there’s a new gap to fill in Christian educational material, then. How to help ‘mature’, committed Christians get a grip, grow spiritually, and live out spiritual disciplines. Maybe that’s where my Anglo-Patristic work can go…

4 thoughts on “Still thinking about catechesis and spiritual growth

  1. MJH: Thank you for these posts on catechesis (and for your blogging in general)! As someone involved at the parish level as a catechist, I think about the issues you have raised quite a bit. I will share just two thoughts in response to this post:

    1. You wrote, “Information is not enough. We need to make this about people entering into the school of the Lord.” I would add a hearty “Amen,” and share a thought on how to do that: perhaps rather than using secondary resources as the backbone for a locally produced “School of the Lord,” wouldn’t it be interesting if part of the pre-baptismal/confirmation catechesis was a companioned reading of all four gospels? Front to back, each of them, with a sponsor or mentor reading along with you and discussing what you encounter. I used to trust the Lectionary to expose catechumens to the Gospels, but I am increasingly convinced that a deep immersion in the texts with a prayerful companion might be more productive. I love the Pilgrim course, but I still think the “lives” of Jesus are more fundamental to discipling new (or new-ish) Christians.

    2. I also think that the “School of the Lord” (sorry, but I really like your phraseology!) should be a school of prayer and spiritual disciplines. This could involve working through some Richard Foster (in whom I think we share an interest), but primarily through the regular use of the Daily Office or some variation thereof. Through such a discipline one encounters common prayer, the Prayer Book, the Bible, the church Kalendar, the communion of saints, and what I call the Christian life-cycle (baptism, confirmation, marriage, ordination, anointing, and burial). And not just as concepts on a power point slide, but in lived common prayer.

    That being noted, I am a fan of intelligently chosen secondary sources, and they could be deployed as necessary through the process of preparation. But, as I have noticed, it is hard to mobilize one’s self and volunteers to make something like this happen over an extended period, and the first group that needs to be discipled about it is the parish.

    Well, I hope this is a helpful response to your wonderful posts! Please keep up the good work.

    Grace and peace,
    Will

    • Thanks for these thoughts. Mobilising and equipping parishes for more than the comfortable pew is a challenge. Even many of us who are equipped aren’t really mobilised!!

  2. A similar thought on catechesis is offered by Rev. Tony Clavier in an article in The Living Church, an American periodical:

    “Most Episcopal churches conclude worship with the injunction to go into the world to love and serve the Lord. The congregation piously thanks God and, after coffee hour disperses to live in the isolation modernity affords. Few know who lives in adjoining houses, particularly after children leave home. Community living is extinct. That an introverted church fails to engage the atomized families whose homes surround the church is hardly extraordinary. In many areas the church building has been left behind, visited only briefly for services on Sundays. While start-up congregations are being formed in some places, the emphasis remains on attraction, rather than on creating parish churches. The fact remains that the attractional model of church growth continues to create inward-looking communities of Christians who believe that the function of the church is to cater to their spiritual needs. The word evangelism frightens them to death, particularly when it involves their engaging with the neighborhood in a holistic manner, presenting the forgiveness of sins, the call to holiness and involvement in the lives of people perplexed by the changes and chances of this fleeting world.

    “A return to the parish model would involve training seminarians and young clergy to create core groups of lay people who live into their baptismal promises, having the courage to be missionaries in the territorial parish, caring for the sick, relieving poverty, providing young people with tools to live for Jesus in a secular world. In short, to obey our Lord’s command to be disciples who go tell, go baptize, offer worship to God, and love extravagantly. Those unable to embrace such a mission in the parish would be trained to support the work of the parish priest and team by active prayer and devotion. Now that would be a Jesus Movement.

    So rather than information transfer, catechesis could become more like basic training for the corporal works of mercy to be performed locally. That is a winsome vision!

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