By Rev. Canon Greg Smith
A network organization called the North American Association for the Catechumenate works to support the efforts of Christian communities of many denominations to recover a catechetical style of accompaniment for new or returning Christians.
In the Anglican Communion of Churches, Books of Occasional Services contain liturgical resources to support the Catechesis model. On the Anglican Church of Canada website, a persistent search of resources will turn up a resource entitled: “Making Disciples: The Catechumenate in the Anglican Church”.
What is going on? Is this “Catechumenate” yet another of those unintelligible “Church” words with which to confound the masses?
Admittedly, “Catechesis” (and all its derivatives) is an insider word of the Christian Church. Catechesis describes the practice that is observable in the records of the early Church for accompanying those coming to faith. The Catholic News Agency talks about it in this way: “The word catechesis comes from the Greek meaning “to echo the teaching” meaning that catechesis or the teaching of the faith is an interactive process in which the Word of God re-sounds between and among the proclaimer, the one receiving the message, and the Holy Spirit! Catechesis is a life-long process of initial conversion, formation, education, and on-going conversion.”
As the Christian Church of the 21st century tries to re-imagine its evangelical work in the world, this model is being recovered as a potential rethinking of how we welcome and enable those who seek and ask for participation in the life of the disciples of Jesus.
A “catechumen” is in effect an apprentice Christian. Some communities will rebrand the same model under new names like “Journey of Faith” or “A Disciple’s Path”, in an attempt to get beyond the possible obstacle of an obscure Greek word.
A faith community can determine its affinity to the catechumenal model by asking itself a number of questions. Is the community engaging any or all of the elements that are part of the catechumenal process? Do you gather seeker, newcomers, returning baptized, and baptized seeking renewal in ways which foster discipleship rather than simple membership? Do experienced participants in the community understand your role for others as accompanying and mentoring into the life of following Jesus more than as experts instructing in Church doctrine and practice? Do you mark key moments on the faith journey with liturgical rites when the whole faith community is gathered? Does your community understand, celebrate and live Baptism in meaningful and life-giving ways? If any of these qualities describes your faith community, you are following an historical pattern, which nurtured an early pre-Constantinian Church. It is all about forming disciples for a life-long journey of faith.
You might want to connect with others who are thinking about the way of Catechesis and discover resources that can help your faith community on the way. The North American Association for the Catechumenate is on the web at www.catechumenate.org and on Facebook as NAAC (public group). You can also have newsletters and catechumenate e-news sent to your mobile device by texting NAAC to 42828.
Rev. Canon Greg Smith is
director of field education in the faculty of theology at Huron University College
and a member of the board of the North American Association for the Catechumenate. [email protected], 519-438-7224, ext. 251.