Where do people go when the course/programme has finished and they are hungry for more?

Filed in Catholic by on March 21, 2014 3 Comments

painting by  brett armory 24 in London photo by SWang

It often happens that you get to the end of a really fruitful programme/course/series in your parish, and people start to ask, “What’s happening next?” “We want to continue, this has been the experience of something new!” If your parish has a strategy for adult formation, then the answer is easy, because perhaps you have a number of options lined up for people who have just dipped their toes in.

But, the reality is, there are few parishes out there with a strategy for adult formation. If only!

And yet, the time at the end of a course that has awakened people’s faith, ignited their enthusiasm, and formed community, is absolutely crucial. All these little ‘sparks’ of faith and enthusiasm have been lit, and we now need to take responsibility to ‘fan’ them into stronger flames, help conversions deepen, mature, and equip people to start reaching out to others.

Firstly, if there is any chance at all of forming a small team of intentional disciples to look at adult formation, if your priest is keen, and together you can draw up a strategy, I think this is ideal. This way, a team can look at the general demographic of the parish in the light of “intentional discipleship” – what do people need? Which ‘thresholds’ are people stuck on? Which particular groups of people do we need to reach out to? There is never a single answer to address everyone’s needs, which is why I think parishes that offer lots of different formation alternatives, at different levels, are the most successful.

Secondly, if there is no possibility of such a strategic approach – perhaps your priest is not really on board, or perhaps it seems you are the sole intentional disciple in your parish! – you can still ask some of the questions above, only on a smaller scale.

Above all, pray. Learning how to discern the next steps is essential, and this means frequent prayer to the Holy Spirit to show us the way. We might want to ask ourselves: Which is more urgent – deeper formation for those already committed, or primary evangelisation of the Mass-on-Sunday-Catholics? Perhaps the former needs to happen first, in order to gather a team for the latter? Prayer must underpin our efforts – especially if we are few in number, and especially if we have lots of different ideas – so that the Holy Spirit may lead us to invest our efforts where God wills – and this will be different from parish to parish.

It’s important to remember, too, that the evangelisation and formation of our parish is a matter of pastoral governance, which means that our priest needs to be at the heart of it – he’s the spiritual father of this community. So, while we are free as a bird when it comes to evangelising our friends (in fact, it’s a duty of our Baptism), when it comes to the parish, we need the priest at the centre (even though he’s not the one doing everything – and he shouldn’t be). Maybe in some cases the very first place we need to start is in praying for our priest…

Finally, nearly two years ago, I wrote this post on leadership after being at the HTB Leadership Conference and being blown away (excited to be going again in May!).

(There is nothing like a bit of evangelical Christian passion and vision to blow away the negativity and blame-game-approach we often experience in the Church – sorry… but it’s true!)

One of the main points I took away was that you do not need a position to lead. Often we wait for someone to ask us to do something. But if you see something that needs to be done, and you have a passion for it, just go ahead and do it! That was two years ago and it’s still with me…

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About the Author ()

Hannah Vaughan-Spruce is an experienced catechist and youth worker, who now works for the Diocese of Portsmouth. Some of her Jericho Tree articles were first posted at her personal catechetical blog Transformed in Christ. They are used here with permission. See http://www.transformedinchrist.com/

Comments (3)

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  1. Tonia says:

    I managed to get our parish to show the CaFE Strength to Strength DVD series during Lent but only by bringing my own iMac along to show it plus the wine, the food and the DVD! We have ten people coming so far but hopefully we’ll get a few more before we finish. It doesn’t seem like a lot but they’re all intentional disciples to some degree and a few of them hadn’t met each other before. We haven’t talked about what we’ll do next but I’ve ordered a copy of the Bible study series you used and I’m hoping it arrives before our last session so I can show them the starter pack and maybe a trailer.

  2. Paul Rodden says:

    As in all of these catechetical articles, I agree – up to a point.

    Firstly, I think just as evangelization and proselytism (‘Evangelism‘) can look similar on the outside to the untrained eye so, I suggest, catechesis and indoctrination can be compared. (‘Indoctrination’ not in the sense of ‘enforcement’ or rote learning of dogma or Bible verses, but the objectification of the subjects of catechesis, as in proselytism.)

    I believe, as Catholics, we have to be very careful that we don’t slip into indoctrination, and that’s a real risk when hanging around with, or reading, Evangelicals, or ex-Evangelicals without having all your sensors out. To misquote Scott Hahn and Jeff Cavins on the Egyptians, ‘It is easier to get an Evangelical out of Evangelicalism than it is to get the Evangelicalism out of the Evangelical’.

    I speak as an extremely cautious ex-Evangelical, who works for the Rector of an Evangelical ‘Church’. We often discuss the real problems in Evangelicalism. As a result, he’s recently announced he’s taking early retirement ‘to consider his future’ in Anglicanism as he shares my concerns, particularly with ‘Emergent’ Evangelicalism.

    So secondly, one of the biggest problems is that Evangelicals look very different at jamborees than on the shop floor (on which the Rector and I are also agreed). That is, when working with Evangelicals, because nearly all of them in England consider themselves ‘non-denominational’, it’s really code for ‘non-doctrinal’, yet they get shirty if you start to point this out – i.e., they are what Dr Bryan Cross would call ‘Ecclesial Relativists’. This is important to note.

    If one reads books like, The Community of the Word: Toward and Evangelical Ecclesiology, a series of essays by Evangelical Theologians, they see this problem, too. It is a result of certain theological presuppositions stemming from the Reformation that are coming to fruition which is having a huge impact on the authenticity and ‘way of being’ within Evangelicalism, especially from George Whitfield, on.

    We have to be careful because what Evangelicals consider themselves, de jure (‘on paper’), they often fail to live, de facto (‘in reality’) and, as ‘non-denominationalism’ is predominantly Calvinist, ‘TULIP’ and the notion of ‘the Elect’, are part of the air they breath. So most Evangelicals in England, even if they don’t know what TULIP is, they live it and teach it through repetition by a form of ‘osmosis’ (so they’re ‘traditionally’ Calvinists whilst assuming they’re non-denominational…).

    As a result, a lot of ‘teaching’ is actually about ‘centres of power’ and ‘agreement’. As a result, many would argue that this mentality, or frame of reference, frequently leads to schisms because it’s based on an ‘objectifying gaze’ of ‘the Other’. Michel Foucault is particularly insightful, here, as well as other students of the discourse of power. Dr David Smail, at Nottingham, being outstanding in this regard in relation to psychotherapy, and how, if what’s being suggested in the article is used by therapists, it actually guarantees therapy will fail, or the client will have to function from a level of self-deception in order to deal with the objectification. (Of course, Karol Wojtyla, in his wonderful work on Personalism, summarises all of this, and takes it further.)

    Now, I think Forming Intentional Disciples is an excellent, if not outstanding, book. However, my biggest concern with it is the ‘2% Club’ (Elect) mindset, and the ‘us and them’ mentality the book sets up. So many Catholics with this worldview, decamp from a congregation if the priest changes, or ‘isn’t up to scratch’, for example.

    When one meets seminarians from the Englsh College at ordinations, for example, it seems like we’re breeding an unhealthy form of what I’d call ‘Oxbridge Catholicism’ which is merely a counter-Modernist alter-ego. Two faces, one animal. A sort of intellectualist 19th century anachronism, for those who like reading Father Brown mysteries, oak panelling, cigars, and port, and not for a New Evangelisation to reach all, particularly those who don’t have an intellectualist, high culture, bent.

    We must not dumb-down the message, as Fr Barron would say, but, at the same time, I am concerned that, whatever the catechists who are in the school of catechesis nouveau believe de jure about the Catholic view, there seems to be a creeping intellectualist mentality which seems exclusive and overly ‘Epistemological’, and that’s Protestant, not Catholic, to me. (Remembering that Catholic Catechisms were primarily ‘Counter-Catechisms’ to address the epistemological/intellectualist ‘catechism mentality’ Luther started, which made Catholicism ‘logocentric’, leading to the deadening and stifling Neo-Thomism which grew from it.)

    The person who expresses this worry best, I think, is Dr Brad Gregory at the beginning of his interview on DVD 2 in the, Catholicism: The New Evangelization set from Word on Fire, and in even greater detail in his magnificent, The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society. (Dr David Anders is also good on this, and more accessible.) We cannot fall into the Seculo-Protestant trap of assuming one model – in this instance the ‘Intentional Disciple’ – is the paradigm of normative discipleship. I believe this mentality is inherently Protestant.

    Apart from prayer, I consider that I need to really know the people I am catechising intimately, but this means more work, treating people as persons rather than part of a programme or ‘God’s (my) vision’. This ‘listening’ guides my approach, and our new priest agrees, so we’re listening hard, and moving forward based on what we’re hearing in order to appropriate catechesis to participants. To me, if I don’t listen in love first and have catechesis spring from that, I’m simply indoctrinating with my own programme, however great it is, and however lofty my aims.

    One simply can’t catechise ‘from the outside’, and what I’m reading in this article is where catechesis doesn’t seem to have changed from ‘the old way’ of catechising one iota: ‘doing unto’ the ‘objects’ of catechetical methods and programmes. That is, new jargon/same old model: Catechechist as ‘purveyor’.

    In short, it should be Pedagogy (walking alongside)/ and Mystagogy (not only at the end), not ‘schooling’ and ‘educating’ (the particular ‘beefs’ of people like Sam Rocha and Leroy Huizenga).

  3. Paul Rodden says:

    I bemoaned the growing ‘Oxbridge Catholicism’…

    Well, HTB (which I visited several times when I was an Evangelical), as well as St Helen’s, Bishopsate and All Soul’s, Langham Place, where I often worshipped, too, are the architypal centres of what I’d call ‘Oxbridge Evangelicalism’ in London (there are also such congregations elsewhere, particularly in York and Oxford, too).

    One of the reasons I started questioning Evangelicalism was when I went to work as a missionary in a really deprived area of London. It became clear that successful congregations were socio-economically ‘flat’, and often to the ‘high end’. That is, the ‘success’ of Evangelism, outreach, congregational growth, etc., was proportional to, and could be correlated and mapped onto socio-economic status. The more ‘professional’ the congregation, the more successful it is at ‘discipling’.
    In other words, this ‘discipling’, as they called it, seemed to be simply a function of social hierarchy, wealth and education, and more importantly, were a form of Commuter Church, like some ‘traditionally minded’ Catholics in London who ‘Abandon Parish’.

    Does God grace the more educated and rich? Enter Calvinism, stage right.

    That is HTB, like the others I mentioned, and could mention elsewhere, are full of barristers, accountants, doctors, teachers and other professionals (of course, Nicky Gumbel being an ex-barrister himself), all with ‘BBC’ accents, extremely articulate, capable, and rich. So, educating, and having the resources to do so, is not a problem. The trouble is, it appeals only to people like themselves. It is a white-collar Christianity, their equivalent of what I call the ‘Man from Hackett’ Catholics to be found at Latin Masses.

    That is, might an attraction to HTB be more about fitting in socially with a socio-economic group one’s comfortable with – like minds – than anything about Christianity, per se, for example?

    ‘Birds of feather, flock together’, as they say, but the real (Catholic) Church shouldn’t be like that. HTB, like the others, impose their own socio-economic, or class, worldview onto the Church and what it should be like. In other words, in their image. Homophily, apart from it’s Calvinistic worldview of the ‘blessings’ due to the Elect) is one of the biggest dangers in Evangelicalism, and we should have no place for it in the Catholic Church.

    My concern is we’re beginning to create a ‘posh’ Catholicism, like the HTB-type Evangelicalism, which is likely to appeal only to people in a particular socio-economic group, and that’s exactly how Evangelicalism works: you can profile congregations by how much they have in common with the leaders and each other.

    To fit in in Evangelicalism, you have to change. They have a way of dressing, a way of speaking, etc., and if you don’t comply, you’re an outsider. But, these changes are not discipleship-related at all, but more with social homogeneity, ‘Inspeak’.

    In short, Catechesis is, I believe, becoming too much in the image of the new breed of ‘graduate’ Catechists who can’t think wider than their own interests, and it’s a grave concern, because that’s the biggest fault of Evangelicalism – being the ‘Tory-Party-at-Prayer’.

    As Brad Gregory says in his DVD interview with Word on Fire, “As difficult as it is, I think sometimes, for Catholics today to understand, you don’t have to have an explicit theological understanding of what it is, in order to be a holy person. My grandmother had an eighth-grade education, she was a holy person, but she couldn’t have told you beans about [he lists various doctrines]”. He suggests that the way we catechise today is a ‘novum’ as more a reaction to the Reformation, and now the ‘New Atheists’, and I think he’s right.

    The catechesis of the catechesis nouveau ‘movement’, as I, and the little group I meet with call it is, sadly, rather patronising when it meets the ‘little people’, the ‘hoi polloi’ of the Church who are just getting on with it the best way they can, and have no interest in Andrew Pinsent and the Big Bang, as if the people they come into daily contact with are going to quiz them on quantum physics and objections to theism at the factory.

    I know. we’re running the ‘Why?’ course with what teachers would patronisingly call a ‘non-exam’ class of adults. Glazed eyes and disconnect. But it’s the best CTS has got, but we’re listening hard and it’s fascinating what they’re talking about which can help us move forward. We seeing in real life just how much the idea of ‘Intentional Disciple’ 2% club is just dismissive and hubristic, based on a huge assumption of what Catholics on the shop floor are like because they’re not like the Weddellian template of those who agree with her. The more people who agree with oneself, or silencing dissent, isn’t a sign of something being true.

    Instead of moaning about the attitude of the parents who just want their Johnny ‘done’, and so want to impose even more onto them to cause more disconnect (like year long-catechesis, as if length of course makes grace efficacious, when it’s more about having a longer opportunity to ‘mess with their head’), maybe some catechists should start to think outside their own little box and not surround themselves only with those who think like themselves: which is, again, what Evangelicals do.

    The attitude behind this is creeping into Catholicism and seems to imply that these ‘thickies’ need ‘extra catechesis’, the catechist’s equivalent of SEN before they are ready to receive the sacraments. Except, as Gregory points out, holiness isn’t linked to any human criteria or standards, but what’s more, it can’t be judged from the outside or measures.

    As our new priest (an ex-Anglican) said last night when we were talking about the issue of Confirmation preparation and extending it to a year, that there are too many Catholics now who hold an ‘Anglican’ rather than Catholic view of the sacraments, especially in terms of just who the minister of the sacrament is, and its efficaciousness.

    Tongue-in-cheek I said maybe we actually need to Confirm first, and then catechise, building on the sacramental graces received. He laughed, but also saw the serious side of that thinking, too…

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