An unusual thing happened at our RCIA session last week. Our facilitator began the evening by talking about our "new class" and proceeded to pass out a book we would be reading! I winced at both CLASS and BOOK: RCIA is not a class, nor is a book the first item the candidate should receive. I feared we were beginning on a note of "school-study-information-doctrine" rather than one of welcome and sharing. We hadn't even had introductions yet! All changed, however, when we began to meet one another. The third woman who introduced herself seemed a bit hesitant. She told us that her kindergarten son died suddenly six months earlier. Through tears she explained that this child was the reason she was joining RCIA, then continued to tell us how spiritual her son was and how much he loved learning about Jesus and going to church. She concluded by sharing her own sense of joy and deep peace, even as she continues to mourn the loss of this, her only child. The personal, honest, difficult yet moving story completely changed us. Books were no longer the focus; a person, a child, a death put us on a different plain. I was relieved and grateful. Doctrine and instruction are important to the RCIA process, but never are they to usurp personal, meaningful stories and experiences of the people whom we gather with. I learned a lesson. I hope this is helpful to you...
Talk to other DREs. Read publications and articles. Spread your awareness to all aspects of church, of what it means to be church. Try to dig into liturgy. Try to know where we have been and where we might be going. Ask questions!!!!
Get your Masters. At the same time that I was hired as DRE, I had also taken a position as a teacher in a Catholic School. I left a career job, a decent paying job, to jump into the whirlwind. I was scared but felt such a strong urge to do so. The diocese began pushing me to go back to school in my second year and really did not want to only because of the time element. I was very busy with teaching full-time and working part time (supposedly) as a DRE (which was the title the pastor gave me) plus my 2 youngest children were still in high school (one was a junior and the other a senior). But I did begin Loyola then and I am so very grateful!!! I loved what I was learning! I loved our classes and the books we had to read and our discussions. I did not graduate believing that now I knew it all. I graduated with the realization the I knew really nothing and yet I was so enriched and what I did learn still guides me and I still use some of my Loyola Books when I am preparing to work with adults and teens. I did gain a real foundation for my work, my ministry as a DRE and I am so grateful for it placed me on a path of hungering to know more, to continue to grow, to search for the Mystery and to hunger for truth. It also drove me out into the world. In other words, if what I profess, teach, share is not applied to my participation in life in the world, then I am not a disciple, not really. I think for me that faith and moving into the discipleship of Christ is a life-long adventure. Participation in life in the world is what I must encourage others to do, to understand what that means, and to do myself if I dare to try to be a disciple and thus carry on the mission of Jesus. And try is what we really do. We try and we must keep trying no matter how many times we may come up short.
Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance or help. You are allowed to not know everything about your ministry. You are allowed to be befuddled during your first few years and actually throughout all the years you serve. When I was hired 31 years ago to replace a seasoned DRE, even though I told the pastor that my experience did not go beyond being a catechist, I realized that there was so much of what I was ignorant. Fortunately, the gal I was replacing was a friend and left me beaucoup notes to guide me throughout the year. However, it was not enough. I learned I had to reach out to the other catechists, to a nun friend whom I came to work with in the school and I also learned to talk to the associate priest and pastor. I can’t say those first couple of years were easy but they were certainly an exciting adventure and a wonderful period of growth in many things but especially spirituality. The door opened on the Mystery of God, the hunger that people really do have for God, and their longing to matter and to find their way in life. Especially high school students.
One time, I was with a group of students on a wilderness retreat. We had hiked into the gorge at night and had troubles putting our fire out. The next morning, we noticed there was a lot of haze at sunrise. We didn’t think too much of it until we noticed firefighters on our hike the second day! They warned us that the forest was on fire and that we should not be there. My co-leader and I still laugh about “not being trained to know what to do when the forest is on fire!” The good news: we were able to stay calm and hike out quickly. I really learned the importance of staying calm in certain situations that day, and to expect the unexpected!
Saying the wrong thing. Being misunderstood by a parent or parishioner. It happens to all of us. If you say the wrong thing, misquote, or give incorrect information, apologize and try to correct it. Before you correct it, make sure your information is correct. If your information is correct and they just don’t like what the church is saying, listen to their reasons and dialogue with them. You may never be able to change the way they think or believe but you have listened and not judged them though you continue to stand upon your own truth. If you need help with this, talk to the pastor or Barb at the diocese.
STORY WITH A PROBLEM
One year we had a CCD field trip from St. Michael’s Church to Cleveland. All of the drivers were given maps and directions on how to get to the assembly area on the blue line. One driver was insistent she knew the way and wound up on the other side of town. The rest of the crew was sent into town with instructions to meet at Town City. The lost driver eventually found her way back and rejoined the group. The rest of the day was serene.
The moral of the story could be overconfidence has its own hazards and an unwillingness to review the route and have a shotgun rider who can read a map does not help to keep the group intact.
Honor sabbath time by having a scheduled day off each week. If possible, do not check work emails, phone messages, or text messages. The Church will still be standing the next day – and more importantly, so will you. Take your vacation time. Make time for a personal retreat once a year.
Check the parish calendar! When scheduling, check and re-check the parish calendar. And remember to write what you are scheduling on the parish calendar. I have in the past not checked the calendar carefully enough and had to reschedule plus shake up those I scheduled on top of. And I still have to be super sure I write my own bookings on that parish calendar. I have forgotten to do that, too. Only thing you can do when it happens is to apologize to all concerned. But also realize it is not the end the world even if you get reprimanded for it. Keep your spirits up, see it as a lesson learned and know that tomorrow is another day. Also, it might increase your compassion when someone else does it to you.