Here is a sample schedule for a catechumenate program that lasts for 12 weeks, covering the essential fundamentals of Christian life. You may wish to add additional topics that are important to your community. These, though, should prepare new members of your community for an engaged Christian faith in the midst of community. Commentary, resources, and ideas for each session can be found here.
Prior to beginning the work of the catechumenate leaders, sponsors and catechumens should be acknowledged and blessed by your whole community as a part of regular Sunday worship. You can find a sample service here. It is also advisable to give to each catechumen a meaningful gift to aid them in he growth of their faith – Bibles are excellent for this. I recommend that the community blessing occur on the Sunday immediately prior to the beginning of the program sessions.
Here is a sample rite of enrollment in the catechumenate
For Episcopalians, there is a rite found in the Book of Occasional Services:2003 beginning on page 114
1 Why Jesus?
I think sometimes in some churches, our desire or enthusiasm for church life obscures the underlying impetus of church life – Jesus Christ. At our best, our congregations enable all members to encounter the living Christ. Therefore, I recommend starting with talking about Jesus and what is compelling about him and reminding your catechumens why Jesus is worthy of their commitment.
2 The Problem of Evil
The story of God’s salvific acts, culminating in the Incarnation and Resurrection, is a story about humanity’s turn to evil and God’s response. Christianity posits that human participation in systemic and personal evil, sinfulness, is a barrier to our living the lives God would wish for us and created us for. It will be helpful to lay this out at the beginning and to help new members understand and identify and understand their own complicity and how God is responding.
Jesus’ own ministry begins with his baptism at Jordan’s bank. Baptism is also our entry into life in Christ as well as membership in the church. Help your catechumens to understand what baptism means in your community and what the promises made at baptism might mean for them.
What we believe about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit shapes how we respond to them in our daily lives. How does your community understand belief and what beliefs are important to you? What are the boundaries of belief in your community? If your community holds to the ecumenical creeds (Apostles and/or Nicene Creeds) or a denominational statement of faith, this is an opportunity to introduce and explain them.
5 Cycle of the Church Year
For churches that use a liturgical calendar with the traditional “seasons” such as Advent, Christmas, epiphany, Lent, etc can explain how each of these colors our devotional and worship life. An explanation of the centrality of Easter (and why it isn’t fixed in the calendar) would be explained here.
Faith as Practice
At the center of my approach is the idea that Christianity isn’t merely something you think or believe, but it something you do. I identify five practices, or disciplines, rooted in Jesus’ own example that encompass and define Christian living. I recommend a separate session for each of the five.
6 Faith as Practice: Worship
Worship is how many people understand and define church. Participation in the community of faith is central to Christian life. Speak of how worship empowers the believer for being Chrst’s emissary in the world. If your church uses a liturgy, here is the place to examine the liturgy in its parts.
7 Faith as Practice: Prayer
Prayer is the essential practice of Christian life, and the foundation of a relationship with God. Prayer is also one of the most difficult things for Christians new and old to sustain. As well as speaking of the importance of prayer, it can be helpful to speak to the kinds of prayers we offer and the many and varied ways we can pray.
8 Faith as Practice: Service
Service, or mission, is way we most visibly act as the body of Christ. Christian service has two components, service to the congregation and service to the world. Both are important and necessary. Encourage catechumens to begin discerning what ministries they might be being called to take up.
9 Faith as Practice: Study
A simple truth is that humanity has not changed much over the ages of its existence. So too, God has remined steadfast in God’s love and desire for us. We study scripture and the story of the church so that we can see how God has responded to human troubles in the past
10 Faith as Practice: Generosity
Generosity is more than just the giving of money, or even of time or skills. Jesus invites us to see “abundant life” so that we might develop a perspective of generosity. We give because we trust God to provide. We are called to be generous with praise, with patience, with compassion, mercy, love, and forgiveness.
11 Church History
There are three parts to this;
1 The history of the “church”
The Christian story begins with Jesus and his followers, but a lot has happened since. Provide a basic understanding of the sweep and breadth of Christian history and the important trends, events, and disruptions in the years since Jesus’ death and resurrection
2 The history of your denomination, tradition, or association
How did it come to be and what insight or practice(s) drove its formation? Who are the worthy figures that defined your way of faith? How has it changed from the visions of the founders?
3 The history of your congregation
You probably had people who founded your church, noteworthy members, and touching stories of the saints among us. Help your new people understand the story of your place and see their place in it.
12 Church Organization
How does your congregation work? What is its relationship to any larger organizations to which it belongs? how does one get an issue addressed, who is responsible for what?
Here is the chance to tie it all together and set them on the road to discipleship. Provide opportunities to provide their testimonies on their faith and the process and have opportunities for each catechumen/sponsor to reflect on their relationship. Definitely include time for worship as well in an informal setting.
Here are some other items I recommend you do;
- Letter to future selves – collect these and mail them out six to nine months later. Ask them to express their hopes right now and where they expect that will take them. Six to nine months is about how long it takes for new-convert fervor to wear off. This is an opportunity for them to be encouraged by their own aspirations and hopes when they are beginning to flag.
- Process Evaluations: Things can always be done better; so provide an opportunity for feedback to guide the process in the future to make it an even more effective and meaningful experience.
- Ministry Recruiting: Service, both within the church and to the world, is important and necessary. Hold a sort of mini-ministry-fair so people know what opportunities and needs exist and to lay out that one of the expectations of membership is active participation in ministries
Baptisms/Commitments to Membership
The final act of the process is to actually formally bring people into membership either through baptism, if they haven’t been baptized or through a rite of commitment (you can see a sample here)
Somewhere between six months and a year after the catechumenate process is complete, plan to re-gather the group.
Whenever you decide to mail out the letters-to-self, also plan a retreat so that people can bring those and reflect together on where their faith journeys have taken them so far. This allows for processing of the move from seeker to disciple and the inevitable hiccups that we encounter when the exciting newness of something wears off. Again, the bulk of the time should be spent on testimony and processing.