By Ken Ogorek, Director of Catechesis, Archdiocese of Indianapolis
Some catechetical leaders think of recruiting as “that thing I have to do if one of my catechists leaves.” Often this puts us in scramble mode—struggling to fill a position before the program year begins.
This article addresses the topic of recruiting and onboarding catechists, as well as encouraging these mission-critical ministers to engage in lifelong formation. Let’s start with the ongoing process of recruitment.
Talent Scouts for God
I encourage parish catechetical leaders to put an item in their calendar each month—even a small task—that focuses at least indirectly on recruiting catechists. Always be on the lookout for parishioners who show potential to share their faith in an enthusiastic and engaging way. Think of yourself as a talent scout for God.
It’s great to have several small ways for adults to plug in to your catechetical program, rather than diving in right away as a lead catechist. Maybe each of your catechists could have a Discipleship Aide, whose main roles are 1) to help the learners discuss and apply doctrines to their life when it’s time for discussion and sharing, and 2) give an occasional, brief witness talk on the power and beauty of a doctrine being taught in her or his life or the life of another—a fellow parishioner, public figure or canonized saint.
Odds are that several of these discipleship aides will be open to serving as catechists if and when the time comes that you ask them. By connecting prospective catechists to your program in less labor-intensive yet helpful (in a complementary sense) ways, you’ll have a ready pool—a deep bench—of folks to call on when the need arises to recruit a catechist for a specific position.
Among the key traits to gauge in a prospective catechist are these characteristics—crucially important in our times:
- Do they see Church teaching in the context of a disciple relationship with Jesus, knowing that God often reaches out to us personally and directly in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition?
- Do they acknowledge the basic doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church as not only true but also good, beautiful and helpful---flowing from God’s love and care for us?
- Do they appreciate the reality that a catechist is both a teacher and a witness? Are they enthusiastic about both conveying Church teaching and witnessing to the positive difference it makes in their life and/or the lives of others?
Every new or prospective catechist, no matter how learned or how much of a novice, benefits from a basic overview of Church teaching. Why? Because they’ve never heard it before? Because they might have a few misconceptions about one or more basic doctrinal or moral teachings of the Church? Maybe.
But more to the point, catechesis isn’t always about acquiring brand-new information—although that can and does occur. More often we’re revisiting basic truths that were taught to us long ago. They haven’t changed; but it’s quite likely that we have. Maybe we’ve lost a parent since that last time we reflected on the basic teaching in front of us. Perhaps we’ve welcomed a new child or grandchild since we pondered the doctrine or moral truth at hand.
New catechists need to understand that they’re preparing those they teach for a lifetime of revisiting and reflecting on the basic, saving truths of our Faith, asking God to help it penetrate and saturate us more deeply, changing our hearts and minds over the course of time so that our very being more faithfully aligns with the mind and heart of Jesus Christ. Whether you have a Ph.D. or a G.E.D., part of your identity as a catechist is a commitment to revisit the basic truths of our Faith from time to time—and to model that for those you teach and to whom you witness.
Thankfully, there are many ways to experience a solid overview of Catholic doctrine available today. A premier example is the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. Most dioceses have a basic catechetical certification of some sort in place, and for the most part all of them involve a revisiting of the basic doctrinal and moral teaching of the Church. Whether or not a diocese has a formal onboarding process in place for new catechists, parish catechetical leaders should see to it that their new or prospective catechists start their formation with a good, basic overview of salvation history along with the essentials of the Creed, Sacraments, Morality and Prayer.
What About Methodology?
Alongside doctrine, a ministry-specific study of catechesis—the identity and spirituality of a catechist, methodology and pedagogy, safe environment information etc.—should occur early on in a catechist’s journey of formation. Some examples of this content, available to the general public, include:
- The Catechesis 101 course originally developed by the Diocese of Sacramento and now widely available via My Catholic Faith Delivered.
- For Spanish-speakers, a foundational course developed by the Archdiocese of Chicago (Ministry Formation II) and also available through MCFD.
- Information on the ecclesial method—a way of planning lessons in catechesis e.g. https://acmrcia.org/blog/ecclesial-method
- Lectio Divina lesson planning as articulated on The Religion Teacher website: https://www.thereligionteacher.com/lectio-divina-lesson-planning/
A Word About the Word
Before we address ongoing formation, recertification, renewal of a basic catechetical certificate etc. let’s pause and focus specifically on Jesus. Jesus is the Word of God. The living Word of the Father. The eternal Logos.
As Catholics we know that both Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition together comprise the one Word of God. As the Catechism briefly asserts:
"Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God" (DV 10) in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches. – CCC 97
In recruiting catechists, let’s be on the lookout for folks who not only appreciate Sacred Scripture, but who also value the Spirit-guided, authoritative teaching of the Church throughout history, up to and including the present day. When we onboard catechists, let’s provide them with an overview of salvation history—especially as articulated in Sacred Scripture—as well as a reliable overview of Sacred Tradition. Our disciple relationship with Jesus—the basis and context for all catechetical activity—is enriched immeasurable when we appreciate the value of both the Holy Bible and the teaching of our holy, Catholic Church.
No Expiration Date
How long should the result of basic formation—a basic catechetical certification of some sort—be valid? Five years? 99 years?
I’m a fan of the three-year cycle. Within three years of onboarding, and in three-year cycles continuing indefinitely, catechists benefit from ongoing formation that includes a few key ingredients:
- Revisiting – Nothing wrong with revisiting the basics, again, every so often.
- Deepening – Many catechists like opportunities to learn more about specific areas of our Faith e.g. Scripture, Christology, sacramental theology etc.
- Spiritual Renewal – An annual retreat or reflection opportunity is a must for folks who teach, witness to and share the Catholic faith.
- Methodology/pedagogy – Always good to brush up on instructional skills.
- Engagement – Catechists aren’t lone wolves. Evidence of being plugged in to the broader effort (e.g. using diocesan curriculum guidelines satisfactorily) are demonstrated to the parish catechetical leader in various ways.
While the onboarding experience can be pretty standard, it’s good to give several options for renewal of certification. Different formats. Maybe even different providers. So long as resources for renewal of certification meet authenticity benchmarks determined by catechetical leaders, why not capitalize on the cornucopia of affirmatively orthodox, pedagogically sound materials and experiences we’re blessed with in our times?
What About Grandparenting?
Some longtime catechists were onboarded many years ago, sometimes with a bit of ambiguity regarding the validity period of that certification. Maybe it really is good for 99 years?!
When a new system of formation is implemented, it’s important for folks to hear that they’re not being de-certified, as if their work in the past didn’t count. A rationale for the renewal cycle can be communicated compellingly (More on this below.), and longtime catechists can be welcomed to their first three-year renewal cycle.
What’s more, for their first renewal—after hearing the great value of revisiting basic teachings regularly—seasoned, previously-certified catechists can experience essentially the same onboarding as beginners. While subsequent renewal cycles will include much more choice and variety, it’s good to get a group on the same page via a shared, common experience of basic doctrinal formation, reflection and life application.
Like Falling Off a Log
You might have noticed that much of what catechists are asked to do are the sorts of habits and activities that are helpful for adult Catholics in general—especially those who have a personal, intentional disciple relationship with Jesus. In that sense, being formed, certified and renewed as a catechist ought to be as easy as falling off a log. Catechists are asked to do what adult Catholics in general are encouraged to do; these teachers and witnesses of our Faith simply monitor, quantify and keep track of their activity—guided by catechetical leaders—to a greater degree than your average Catholic. (As referred to above, the value of the activities and habits described throughout this article amounts to a strong rationale not only for a good onboarding experience but also—even for seasoned catechists—an ongoing cycle of renewal.)
Through your leadership—the tone you set, the enthusiasm you bring—even the busiest of catechists can find time to engage in their own formation, part of an authentic call to serve in catechetical ministry within the Church. Skillfully recruited, lovingly formed, may your catechists fulfill the Great Commission of Jesus, born up by our heavenly Father’s grace and mercy, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit.
Ken Ogorek is the Director of Catechesis at the Archdiocese of Indianapolis.