Copyright: © 1996 Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. This document may be
freely reproduced for non-commercial purposes with credit and mention of the Lift Up Your Hearts web site http://www.worship.ca/ as the source.
Entrance into the Culture of Life2 by Jeffrey C. Silleck
There is reason to doubt if some of the parents gathered around the font at the baptism of their child have even a clue about the meaning of the Christ event and the difference it has made in our understanding of the world, ourselves, and the Living Creator. Godparents, selected for sentimental reasons rather than on the basis of Christian principle and commitment, show up gawking at a building they have never seen. These people and this child are products of the culture in which they have been immersed. And in Western Civilization that culture can no longer be presumed to be basically Christian, even if the majority of its people claim some connection to Christianity.
Despite our enormous progress in the areas of technology and medicine, a survey of the human spirit in western culture at the end of the twentieth century is a survey of the scene of a disaster. If the great world wars did not exact the final toll from it, then living under the shadow of a nuclear threat for four decades did. What might have been left of the soul of the western person after World War I, the holocaust, the Soviet state, and apartheid has in the last decades of this century been purchased for the price of the latest consumer item. Trends of increased acceptance of suicide, abortion used as birth control, hostility to immigrants and foreigners (spiritually reminiscent of the city of Gomorrah's lack of hospitality to the stranger), cruel employment environments, and urban war zones are not the problem. They are only the symptoms of a society estranged from its God and itself. When the typical suburban family gathers around the font, they are dressed well, but the fine threads often cover a beaten and contorted human spirit steeped in what the present pope calls the western "culture of death."
Maybe it has always been so. The verbs in the Great Commission of Matthew 28 are instructive: "Go forth," "make disciples," "baptize," "teach," and "know." Baptizing is only one-fifth of the task. Evangelism, the 'going forth,' is another fifth. The other three fifths of the command has to do with a passing on of a counter-culture. Jesus sends his disciples into the world to rescue the world through initiation into a new culture, a remedial culture to the deadly ways of the world, a culture of life2.
"Life2" is an idiosyncratic means of indicating that the gift of baptism is both eternal life and the healing, redemption, and rectitude of life this side of the grave. Even if growth in holiness and wholeness cannot be measured and is never complete, it cannot be said to be invisible or totally absent. Grace is not without its effect. Baptism is the moment of initiation into a whole culture and way of life. It is not a coincidence that before the disciples were called Christians they were known as the people of the Way. If constant television, aggressive drivers, and the barrage of bad news can have a detrimental effect on the human spirit, then the singing of psalms, hymns, and sacred songs can likewise lift and heal the person. The Christian culture is distinctive and it is peculiar. With the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ at its centre, constantly generating an ambiance of vitality and gentle mercies, the baptized are to be people of a way, a clear and present way of living.
How is this culture maintained? Word. Sacrament. Fellowship. How is this culture communicated and passed on from generation to generation, from initiated to uninitiated? Here is the weakness in the configuration of the church today. For centuries it could be presumed that a Christian culture would hand on an understanding of the faith, the way of Christians, in a hundred different ways. From plaques and pictures in the home to weekly attendance at the church, families in the New World carried on habits set in the Old World hundreds of years ago. No longer can a Christian environment be presumed in the average home. Images of church are shaped more by Hollywood and the media than by parents and personal experience. A sympathetic understanding and insight into the Christ event is rarer than we might think. Good people. Nice people. Yet, ignorant and deprived of Christian understanding.
The catechumenate is the way that the Christian church meets a pagan world and teaches it, making disciples of its members. Practically speaking, the catechumenate is the only means the church has to pass on the faith. It is three fifths of the Great Commission. It can be adapted and shaped according to local needs, but it is a permanent part of the church's self-presentation. Our lack of familiarity with the catechumenate and its vocabulary is due to our failing, not its oddity. For centuries we thought we could get by without it just as some believe they can get by without weekly communion. One might survive without either, but one will survive with less and be less fully immersed in The Way. The catechumenate is not a program, the latest version of bible study and disciple making for the core active members of the congregation and a few others. It is a normal part of the life of the church, lost and now recovered. The catechumenate is the normal way in which (a) Non-members approach membership, and (b) The community of faith is renewed in the faith by the very act of handing on the understanding of the faith to the newcomer. Simply put, the catechumenate is what a church does.
In a time and place where Christianity is confronted with a culture other than itself, which speaks of authorities, origins, and destinations other than the Living God, the need for a vigorous, systematic presentation of the Culture of Life2 has reenergized the ancient form of the catechumenate. If there were a better means for this effort of enculturating the pagan into the Christian Way, we would have. The time has come again for the catechumenate. Use it for all it is worth.
Jeffrey Silleck is an ELCA pastor in Eastlake, Ohio.
One of the challenges in getting started with the catechumenate is to communicate to the parish the vision and practice of the catechumenate. The catechumenate challenges a parish to examine who it is as a community that initiates. If the baptism of adults is the responsibility of all the baptized in the parish community, how can this responsibility be authentically lived out?
Perhaps a way of beginning is having the parish spend a year or two preparing to begin. Maybe the parish needs assistance in recognizing its own continual conversion process by developing a renewal process based on the catechumenate itself.
Nancy Burkin tells how in a Canadian parish a year was spent in preparation. Since there were no inquirers or catechumens, it became a time for the parish to ask: what is our journey of faith? where has it taken us and where does it lead? who are we as Church? (These were pre-catechumenate questions.) Then during a period of catechumenate they explored the teachings of the faith and their lives in response. They celebrated rites of commitment to their renewal. A Lenten retreat focused on the concept of conversion. In this way, people in the parish came to experience the catechumenate by living through the process.
The Volunteer Syndrome and the Call of God by Richard "Dick" Bieber
At the root of our difficulty in "getting the laity involved in ministry" is our tendency to view our congregation as an assembly of volunteers. Volunteers have to be handled with a certain delicacy. They need to be stroked. They must never be offended. If you overwork them, they burn out. "Don't forget, pastor, I'm not getting a salary like you are. I have my job and my family. And I'm entitled to a little recreation. So if I skip the treasurer's report at council this month, don't get bent out of shape."
The successful pastor in this setup is one who knows how to motivate the volunteers and keep them happy. This pastor understands that these dear folks aren't getting paid to come to church or sing in the choir or serve on the evangelism committee. So you reward them for good behaviour. You make it worth their while. Megachurches have been built on this principle. But while numbers and money may flow toward the ministry of the pastor who knows how to organize and stroke the volunteers, the result is a thin caricature of the church which Jesus promised to build, the church which has the power to storm the gates of death.
Membership in the Body of Christ, not only for the pastor but for every believer, begins with the call of God. Surely when the pastor is clear about the call that rests upon his or her life, it becomes obvious that every member of the flock is under the same call to discipleship from the same Lord. Jesus did not call me to be a professional priest, ministering to a flock of volunteers. He called me to follow his example and begin washing the feet of my fellow disciples. He called me to acknowledge before his cross that these men and women he has sent me to serve are as much under the call as I am. I need to see these people as under a call, honour them as "called and ordained ministers of the Church of Christ" who are no less called and ordained than I am. True, they have not been "ordained" by a synod. But they have certainly been ordained by the Lord for ministry in his Body that is no less significant than mine.
"Well, my people sure don't act like called ministers. So how can I regard them as such?" Moses was under a call from the day of his birth. He tried the volunteer method when he killed the Egyptian, when he tried to settle an argument between two Hebrews, and when he rescued his wife-to-be from some rough shepherds. At last, at the age of eighty, Moses was lifted out of himself and set free to be what he was always meant to be -- a deliverer -- as he heard the call, took off his shoes, and answered it.
Our job is to be the burning bush through which our people hear the call which has been haunting them and hunting them through the barren years. They will hear the call of the living Lord through us, when we open our eyes and behold God's claim resting upon them, and, under the power of the cross, beckon them to follow the Master with all of their strength and the best of their resources.
Once they begin to hear that call -- and they will -- they will no longer function as volunteers. They will know that their lives are not their own, they belong to the God who called them. They (and we) will no longer be able to produce something half-baked and whimper, "This is the best I can do. I'm doing all I can, Lord," because the Spirit of excellence, the power to do it right, is in the call.
Every man and woman in our flock who has any faith in Jesus at all is under a call. They are not volunteers; they are called. And one day they are going to answer for that they did with that call. And we are going to answer for whether we allowed ourselves to be the burning bush through which they heard it.
Richard Bieber is an ELCIC pastor living in Nova Scotia.
Workshop to Train Sponsors by Don Johnson
Goals for a One-Day Workshop:
We met from 9 am to 3 pm. During lunch, at another site, discussion continued.
Block One: Time for prayer and scripture reflection. Reflections shared in the group and all encouraged to pray.
Block Two: Private time remembering all who have helped in their spiritual lives. Gather in twos and share thoughts on what had come to mind. Each partner offered a prayer of thanks for the people in the partner's life.
Block Three: Invite all the sponsors to think of both the strengths and the fears they have about being sponsors. This was a private time and a group-sharing time. Invited sponsors to state the strengths of each as they were able and to encourage each other.
Block Four. Watch the ELCIC video "Journey of the Spirit." Each to list what was considered important from the video. These lists were then shared. Most important learning happened during this discussion.
Block Five: Deal with further questions.
Block Six: During the closing eucharist, all were invited to pray during the prayers of the church.
Don Johnson is pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in North Vancouver, BC.
The Small Parish and the Seattle Follow-Up by Clement Mehlman
Catechumenate processes require adaptation, and especially in small and rural parishes those changes are essential. We are interested in encouraging and training pastors of small parishes, both rural and urban, who want to begin exploring the ministry of the adult catechumenate. If you want to become part of this innovation in initiation, contact The Rev. Cindy Halmarson or The Rev. Karen M. Ward.
In the last issue I reported on the first North American Intra-Lutheran dialogue on the catechumenate in Seattle. Two training events have been planned for April of 1997: an April 3-6 event will be held at Oviedo (near Orlando), FL; an April 24-27 event at Portland, OR. The cooperation among the three church bodies will see further development of the rites by a joint planning group; the publication of a catechumenate primer, rites, and catechist's guide by Augsburg Fortress and the ELCA worship staff; and a pre-event video produced by the ELCA to introduce participants to the theology of the catechumenate. ELCIC materials are already available through Augsburg Fortress. For information on either the workshops or future directions of the catechumenate, contact The Rev. Cindy Halmarson, Assistant to the Bishop, at the Winnipeg office of the ELCIC, or The Rev. Karen M. Ward, Associate Director for Worship in Congregational Ministries at the Chicago office of the ELCA.