[This article first appeared in Christian Initiation 32 (October/November 1998), p. 8]
Debra just couldn't keep her eyes off Grace. Mass ended ten minutes ago, but there stood Grace, still hanging around the door, visiting with — was it the same people as last week? No, new people. She just had a knack for visiting and getting people to meet people.
Debra did not just see Grace. She saw hope. The parish planned to start a precatechumenate this year. The leaders wanted a better way to welcome people when they first called with questions about joining the Catholic Church.
When Debra first posed the idea, her catechumenate team loved and hated it all at the same time. Members saw the need for a better welcome, but no one was willing to give the time for it. It was simpler to invite people to sessions with the full group, without giving them special attention in their first weeks. Debra saw one way out of the dilemma. She could recruit a volunteer. The team agreed to help find one.
"Let's brainstorm a bit," she told the team last week. "Suppose you're interested in joining the Catholic church. You want to find out how it's done. What are you hoping for when you call in?"
"A friendly voice," said Jack, co-coordinator of sponsors; he joined the church last year. "A concrete plan," said Fr. Smith, the pastor. "No pressure to join," said Myrtle, who organized the catechesis. "Snacks," said Betty, the liturgy director. They all smiled. "And I think we need a good listener," said Debra.
They kept working, adding to the list, and shaped a vision of the precatechumenate.
"We should have a session every week," said Fr. Smith "so that whenever someone calls with questions about joining the church, we have a regular place and time for them to go."
"Do it in someone's home," said Jack. "It's less intimidating and people can relax better."
"It's easier to get treats, too," said Betty.
"There should be time for people to ask about the church," said Myrtle. "Confession, saints, Mass — whatever questions they're wondering about." "And they should get answers," said Jack, "enough for them to know that we'll take them seriously."
"The host should have good ears," said Fr. Smith, "When people tell their stories about why they came to us and how they got here, we should be listening for the ways God was with them all along." The team realized that finding one home to provide all this all year round would prove difficult, so they decided to recruit a few households willing to share this ministry.
"But," insisted Debra, "we need one volunteer to oversee the whole operation."
So they drew up a list of expectations for this volunteer: attendance at monthly team meetings, participation in the diocesan training sessions at least once a year, supervision under Debra, hosting a share of the precatechumenate sessions, and willingness to support the other families who would take turns providing hospitality each and every week throughout the year.
"We're going to do this every week all year long?" asked Myrtle. "It's hard to get anyone to volunteer in the summer."
Fr. Smith agreed. "But if we have sessions once or twice a month during the summer, that ought to be enough."
"OK," said Debra. "We have a job description. This weekend, look around church. Look for people who are good with people. Folks who haven't overextended themselves in the parish. Call me Monday with some names and I'll start phoning through the list. If we come up with five or six candidates, one is bound to say yes. And the rest will feel great that we thought enough of them to ask."
That's why, on Sunday morning, Debra couldn't take her eyes off Grace. Grace was new to the parish last year, yet she was making friends more quickly than some families in their third generation here. Debra walked up.
"Grace, I want to give you a call this week." "Sure," she replied. "Come on over for coffee."
Debra continued cautiously, "I need some help, and you might be the person I'm looking for."
Grace paused a moment. "Well," she said, "let's talk."
"That's all I need to hear," said Debra.