Bringing the RCIA into the Digital World
Brigid Johnson, Director of Faith Formation
Immaculate Conception Church, Knoxville, TN
Our RCIA team at Immaculate Conception Parish in Knoxville, TN is a vibrant, active group. We have made great effort over the years to bring Inquirers first into the parish, including them in all of the parish activities. Our weekly sessions focus on catechetics but we include hospitality, Gospel reflections and, over the summer, any other parishioners who wish to join us for the short, focused summer courses.
I send out a lengthy email every week with reading assignments, reflection questions, saint trivia, Catholic prayers and all the current parish activities. Who knows what might just tickle their fancy? I also look for anything that was mentioned in that week’s session that needs further clarification. There are usually links for other, safe, information to broaden their appreciation of our faith and the life-changing decision they are making.
However, last year we ran into a problem with a group composed of mainly 20’s and 30’s. This group of young people began corresponding with each other via “Twitter”. One of the sponsors, also in his 20’s, was trying to facilitate the discussion and finally came to me when he realized that he was in way over his head. I did not have a twitter account and had no clue what was going on, pretty much right under my nose. It was a difficult situation and caused some hard feelings when we shut down the private discussion and brought most of it out into the open forum of our sessions.
My application to Digital Discipleship Boot Camp (DDBC) was kind of a lark. It sounded like fun so I asked for a grant from the diocese and received it. My goal was to understand more of what the teens in youth ministry were talking about and sharing. I had Facebook and Instagram accounts but that was pretty much my only forays into the digital world besides my Kindle. I thoroughly enjoyed the course and was very proud of my Animoto video and the game I was able to create on Kahoot.
When I began working with Wix a new thought took precedence in my 68-year-old mind. Working with WIX gave me hope that I could design a website for the RCIA which would include an idea of the RCIA process, an introduction to the materials we use, introduction to the team and the information that I send out weekly. An important part of that would need to be a comments section where the catechumens and candidates could ask questions and the team, including the clergy, could answer those questions.
I began with a picture of our beautiful church as the background. But apparently people draw more attention on a website than churches or so I was told. So, I began taking pictures of our RCIA sessions and gathering pictures from past Rites. That became the first section of the website: “Becoming Catholic, Living Catholic.” Uploading pictures really was very easy with WIX. And I did get permission from all those included in the pictures to post their pictures online.
The second section was called “The Journey”. In this section I experimented with text that slid into place. It’s interesting, not perfect yet but it does give a quick outline of the periods in the RCIA process.
The third section shows the materials that we use in our RCIA process. We focus first on the Gospel for the following Sunday. Our hope is that when they hear it on Sunday, they will hear it differently since they’ve had a week to reflect on it. We also use the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults (USCCA) as our text book. It’s really background to give them enough information to ask questions as each catechist presents on their topic. Fr. Tim Sullivan, our associate pastor, always has fun and interesting handouts so I included a picture of those.
Section four introduces the team with their contact information. We want the catechumens and candidates to be able to reach us whenever they have a question or concern. Again, my goal was to eliminate some of the confusion that the group experienced last year. Also included were some guidelines for sponsors.
My next goal was a calendar but the WIX calendar seemed limited or maybe I just haven’t experimented with it enough. I chose to just list upcoming dates in a very simple manner.
This was all accomplished fairly easily for the most part but I did have issues setting up the comment section of the blog. (One of the catechumens helped me figure it out.) Each week I add a blog post on the assignment for the week, the speaker, a saint of the week and a Catholic prayer or trivia, basically the contents of the email. Since I used to do this by email everyone is looking for the weekly update and the group seems to have migrated well to the website now.
The website is not restricted to a certain audience but I can’t imagine anyone finding it on their own. With a little more confidence, however, I just might add it as a link on the parish website and see if it draws some more people in. That would require making the comment section private though and I’m not there yet. Recently I received a grant from the diocese to upgrade the website and eliminate some of the advertisements. I’ll investigate further to see if that update will give me more flexibility.
I also hope to introduce the concept at a Diocesan DRE or RCIA coordinators meeting and inspire others to continue the education process with other media. Even those who are using a video format for their RCIA sessions should enjoy having a place for news, updates and conversation.
Thank you, DDBC for this opportunity.