I never wanted to be a catechist, so how did I get here? I saw hundreds of people: a crowd diverse in every category (including someone with a developmental disability) except for religion… sort of. They were all Christian, although they represented many different denominations. Otherwise, there were no obvious unifying characteristics. There were extroverts who drank wine and laughed with new friends. There were introverts who snuck out to unpack or walk in the woods.
In all that diversity, I sensed a commonality in this strange community: there was wisdom, love…and joy. At the time they effortlessly virtuous: patient, kind, humble, compassionate… you name it. This was no vision or delusion. It was 2006, and I had arrived at the biennial gathering of the National Association of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, hosted in Hartford, CT by the Center for Children and Theology.
As a rookie catechist I took my time and observed the other catechists. Insecurities began to mount not only of my inadequacy, but the folly of believing that anything inside me would ever change. “I could never be like them.”
Introductions began, and doubt was quickly replaced with joy. There was no arrogance, no “cool table,” or cliques of important catechists. In fact, the more experienced or well-known the catechist (fame from being a guru, leader, or having written a book) the more lovely and down-to-earth they were. I found my footing, and contributed as able using the gifts God gave me.
I felt God’s voice: “You are adequate. This is where you are supposed to be. I will give you what you need to do this work.”
I took Level 1 training as a sort of retreat from being a stay-at-home mom of two pre-school boys. When I see myself in 2003, it is hard to see any diamond in all that rough. Thank God for the patience of my trainers and mentors! With their guidance, I finally let God do the molding, and my slow transformation began. Catechesis of the Good Shepherd saved my life, not only with formation, but by letting the child be my teacher.
More than ten years later, I am happy and (I dare say) confident as the sole catechist in Level 3 (Golden Thread Atrium) with a really great assistant. I realize that now I am the one responsible for welcoming and encouraging new catechists. Perhaps one day one of them will become my partner in Level 3.
Sometimes I look around the congregation and wonder, “Who is God calling now?” And the need for an answer has become urgent, and will probably be ongoing for the next several years.
The question has become urgent. With the growing number of children in our parish, Level 2 (The True Vine Atrium) adults will be overwhelmed in fall 2014 and fall 2015, and then it will be my turn when the kids reach Level 3. Level 1 has now split into a three year old atrium (Mustard Seed) and a four-five year old atrium (Good Shepherd) which demands more volunteers, more materials. And even if Level 1 or the number of children levelled off, we would still have attrition when a catechist moved away or retired. ! God forbid if I get sick or can’t return to the atrium for some reason! Catechists and clergy have to become more active and aware of people who want to explore this ministry.
What do I say makes a good catechist? It is too easy and too hard to say “Love” or “Faith”. It certainly isn’t a question of knowledge, virtue, or natural ability. In my book, I only have one pre-requisite: a desire to listen to God’s voice with children.
Many people choose to assist for a limited period of time, finding that level of ministry works well for them. Others want to go deeper, and it is possible a formation course is right for them. Could God be calling you to work in the atrium, either as an assistant or a catechist? If you would like to work in an atrium in either capacity, I invite you to speak with any catechists or with the associate rector, The Rev. Rhonda Lee.