By Rev. Lisa Wang
If we look back in time to the earliest centuries of Christian history, we can see that the Church has always been a learning Church.
People gathered each week to hear the bishop explain the Scriptures. People went to catechetical schools to learn the basics of their faith. And people undertook a long period of catechesis, purification and enlightenment in preparation for baptism. What wisdom can we draw for today from these ancient practices?
An adult wishes to be baptized, to become a Christian. Perhaps another parish, nearby, has another person seeking the same. Perhaps we can look to the ancient catechumenal process to guide us in their preparation, as they learn, pray, and grow in their faith. Perhaps one or two members of each congregation may be willing to accompany and mentor them in this process. And perhaps the ancient rites of the church which are part of this journey can be celebrated, as the whole community is involved in welcoming these new believers.
Others who have been away from the church may wish to mark their return to the practice of their faith through the celebration of confirmation (if this has not already taken place) or the renewal of their baptismal vows. Someone else who has come to the Anglican Church from another tradition may wish to be formally received.
All these events can be celebrated with the rites provided by the church (see BAS pp 623-30), as well as involve a course of learning, prayer, and formation inspired by the catechumenal process. Still others who are lifelong churchgoers, who wish to revisit the foundations of their faith, may want to participate in this course for their own enrichment, and as a support to those who are learning.
Many people regularly attend a weekly Bible study group, or engage in seasonal book studies for Advent, Lent, or throughout the year, on topics which interest them. Some may wish there were more learning opportunities like this in their community. What if we saw learning as something that enables us to follow Jesus: enables us to fulfill our baptismal vows, as embodied in the Church’s Marks of Mission? Thus, our learning has a goal.
Perhaps all the Bible studies, book studies, and educational events we do in a year can be seen as tasks in an annual congregational plan for learning (integrated with our annual Ministry and Mission Plan, for example), which has as its goal the deepening of our ability to live the vows of our baptism. This intention can be expressed annually by the whole congregation with the renewal of their baptismal vows at the Easter Vigil or Pentecost. In this way, year after year, our learning builds on the foundations of the catechumenal process which gave birth to us as Christians.
All of these ways of learning, and many others, can be understood as “catechumenal ministries”, as we find our inspiration in the ancient learning Church.
Rev. Dr. Lisa Wang is the Developer for Catechumenal Ministries for the Diocese of Huron.