Forming RCIA Sponsors in the Art of Accompaniment

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The Institute for Ministry Formation developed a robust process for forming RCIA Sponsors in the Art of Accompaniment.  Through a multi-stage program of mentoring and teaching, RCIA Sponsors are equipped for carrying out their canonical responsibility using a Spiritual Inventory developed by Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB.  If you would like to participate in this process for the current year, please inquire through the IMF contact request on this website.

Process description

The program used by the Institute for Ministry Formation consists of a three-staged approach to forming the sponsor.  The first stage is to provide accompaniment for the sponsor using the same process that the sponsor will employ.  The second stage is to provide teaching that helps the sponsor understand and practice an approach to listening that will foster vulnerable self-revelation from the catechumen in the style outlined above for accompaniment.  The third stage is to provide the sponsor with an assessment tool called the Spiritual Inventory that helps to collect the content of accompaniment and a roadmap for how to lead the catechumen in the process of accompaniment.  This process is designed to handle a wide variety of faith experience and development among RCIA sponsors.

Stage 1: The sponsor is accompanied

The first stage of the process requires the sponsor to take a Spiritual Inventory.  The Spiritual Inventory consists of approximately seventy-five questions to measure the disciple’s experience, habits and knowledge in the areas of prayer, community and mission.  After taking the Spiritual Inventory, the sponsor meets with a trained spiritual companion for at least three sessions of one hour each to share about his or her life of discipleship.

As the spiritual companion explores the potential sponsor’s experience of God, practice of the Christian life and knowledge of the faith, it will become readily apparent whether the potential sponsor is  truly capable of accompanying someone else on the journey of Christian initiation.  For most sponsors there will be deficiencies that can be overcome.  These deficiencies in their knowledge, practice or experience will come to light through the accompaniment process.  These deficiencies need not prevent them from continuing as sponsors so long as they are able to begin working on them and able to be careful in how they accompany their catechumens in those areas.  In some cases they might fruitfully grow together with their catechumens by exploring resources suggested by the spiritual companion.  In the case of their better formed areas of discipleship they will grow in confidence and learn patterns of accompaniment by sharing their journey with a spiritual companion.  As Pope Francis noted, the best way to learn accompaniment is through being accompanied (Evangelii Gaudium 172).

Stage 2: Learning how to accompany

The next stage in the process is for the sponsor to learn some foundational concepts and develop some skills in the style of accompaniment.  In particular, the sponsor needs to learn the expected style of accompaniment which involves, for example, more listening than speaking.  Furthermore, the sponsor must learn a style of listening that moves to interiority and fosters vulnerability.  To be effective in accompaniment, the sponsor must learn how to tenderly handle the weaknesses of candidates, help them to share their personal stories of conversion, assist them in their questions about the faith and support them in developing good habits of Christian life.  To accomplish this, we use an abbreviated presentation of the content of the IMF’s Spiritual Direction program that covers key points in the books Spiritual Direction and Personal Prayer which were co-authored by Fr. Boniface Hicks, OSB and Fr. Thomas Acklin, OSB.

Stage 3: Practice accompaniment using the Spiritual Inventory

The final stage of the process is for the sponsor to use the Spiritual Inventory in accompanying his or her catechumen.  The advantage of using the Spiritual Inventory for this accompaniment is twofold.  First the Inventory provides the catechumen with an opportunity to prepare for meeting with the sponsor by thinking through and measuring the various areas of Christian discipleship.  Such preparation can greatly improve the effectiveness of the meetings with the sponsor.  Second, the Inventory establishes an itinerary that the sponsor can follow in exploring the catechumen’s life of Christian discipleship.  To assist the sponsor in this process, some group processing and mentoring is made available at the beginning of this accompaniment.

Technology and group support

The whole process is offered online and staged through the IMF’s Mighty Network.  You can explore the 2021-2022 RCIA accompaniment videos and structure by requesting access here.