She turned to her husband as they still lay in bed and said “Good morning church member!” This was the first morning they woke up together as church members. They had been to churches off and on but had never joined. They had just completed the second part of our three part catechumenate at Bethany Luthean Church and School in Naperville, Illinois. The in depth nature of the catechumenate was in part the cause of this joyful and rightfully prideful morning exclamation. It is also an encouragement for pastors to make sure that they properly teach adult confirmands in this day and age when in depth instruction is being sacrificed at the altar of church growth.
As best I can tell, the rebirth of the ancient catechumenate is an offspring of liturgical renewal. It was first seen again in the last generation in the Roman Catholic Church. It consists of casting the adult confirmation process into three distinct parts. First is the Inquiry Stage when potential confirmands discuss their interest in the faith with the pastor so that they can be encouraged and drawn into the second phase – the teaching phase. The third and final phase is an orientation into the practice of the faith called the Mystagogy.
Each phase is connected to the liturgy. Early in the second phase, after the catechumens have had their basic questions answered in the Inquirer’s Phase, they are brought before the church in the liturgy, introduced to the parish which is asked to pray for them, and they are given a hymnal, catechism, and Bible to use in the next phase. That next phase culminates with the adut confirmation in the liturgy. In the Spring module we do the confirmation and any necessary adult baptisms at the Easter Vigil as the church had done for centuries before the catechumenate process was lost. A few weeks later the confirmands are brought before the congregation for a third time. This time it is at the culmination of the mystagogy, which all new members are asked to attend. During the liturgy they are welcomed into the parish and also the congregation learns where in the parish they will be serving (e.g. Trustees, room mother, usher, etc.).
The best feature of the catechumenate is a clear emphasis on the depth of teaching for the adult catechumens. In some Roman Catholic churches the teaching goes on for a year. In our parish our teaching component lasts three to four months with an additional month for what the mystagogy.
We are also committed to depth of teaching in our day school. All three pastors work with the children. We teach Bible and the six chief parts in 5th through 8th grade and starting next year we will have a pastor in the younger grades supporting the day school teachers in our Scripture memory program.
We also recently shored up our public school confirmation by adding a third year for Bible study because we found that their knowledge of the Scripture was greatly lacking.
Sadly, the last generation has not only brought to the LCMS increased depth in teaching adult confirmands but it has also brought us the exact opposite. For the sake of bringing in more members more quickly and not turning them off with all that boring and strict doctrine, there are churches that have gone the exact opposite way of teh catechumenate. There are far too many LCMS parishes that bring people into membership via a a single Saturday morning session with most of that time spent on teaching them the parish vision and the importance of giving a big offering to the church.
Even if you don’t adopt the ancient catechumenate as a means for adult confirmation, we plead with you pastors (and laymen – to encourage your pastors) to deepen your instruction in the faith for both juniors and adults. It will create members who are rightly proud of their accomplishment of membership and more importantly, it will create a chance for the Holy Spirit to work the depth of faith that is needed to be steadfast Lutherans and to withstand the flaming arrows of the Evil One.