By Rev. Lisa Wang
“Catechumenal” might seem like a fancy new word for something strange and obscure, but in fact it’s an old word for something very familiar: something the Church does every day.
The term “catechumen” (from a Greek word meaning to inform or instruct) was used by the ancient Christians to refer to adults being prepared for baptism. So, a catechumen is someone who is learning. Desiring to become Christians, catechumens entered into an extensive course of instruction and formation which, culminating in the sacraments of Christian initiation (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist), would integrate them fully into the life and mission of the Church.
Yet, our learning doesn’t end with our baptism and confirmation; it is only beginning! In his charge to the 180th Synod of this diocese, Bishop Todd reminded us that the life of the Church is “a continuing conversion to the fullness of the Gospel.” “Continuing conversion” means that we keep on changing, growing, and going deeper. We keep on learning. Indeed, we become “life-long learners”!
We never stop learning, because we’re not just learning about someone; we’re getting to know someone. Our learning is an encounter, a relationship with a person, Jesus Christ, through whom we share in the life of God.
This is how Bishop Todd invited us to think of ourselves as a “Learning Church”:
A Learning Church seeks spiritual formation that leads to changes in life that bear fruit in action. This involves us in the joy of discovery. It deepens our fascination with the scriptures and Christian traditions. It leads us to embrace the way of Jesus. A Learning Church focuses its learning on Jesus.
Maybe you’re someone who loves to learn. You know what the “joy of discovery” feels like when you learn something new. Or maybe you’re someone who doesn’t enjoy learning. The important thing to realize is that the kind of learning we’re talking about isn’t about facts and figures. It’s about building a relationship. In the context of relationship, the “joy of discovery” is about getting to know someone, and becoming known ourselves. What “deepens our fascination” isn’t fascination with information, but with the God we love, who loves us.
That’s why we can’t think of learning as something only children do, or as one more thing we don’t have time for. We don’t meet someone once, and then say we know them. We come to know someone over many years, and many shared experiences. We come to know someone over time — a lifetime.
Inspired by our Church’s ancient practice, all Christians, young and old, can be regarded as catechumens: people who are learning. Catechumenal ministries, then, are ministries of learning: not just for those being baptized, but for everyone. How does learning happen in your congregation or community? What new possibilities for learning can you imagine? What would happen if those possibilities became a reality? How would it impact the life and ministry of your congregation or community?
Rev. Dr. Lisa Wang is the Developer for Catechumenal Ministries for the Diocese of Huron.