Back in September last year, I had been eagerly awaiting the publication of Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light but was having real problems tracking down a copy for myself. Eventually I ended up putting it on my wishlist and resigned myself to a long wait.
Fast forward to last month, when I (finally!) got around to setting up a Child Trust Fund for my baby daughter with the voucher I received from the government when she was born. Once the fund I’d chosen had actually received the voucher, they sent me a £20 Amazon gift voucher, so I had a look and found that the Mother Teresa book was actually in stock in the UK at last!
So this morning, my Amazon order arrived; in addition to the Mother Teresa book I’d also ordered Introduction to Christianity by the former Cardinel Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, on the recommendation of a friend on the LiveJournal Christianity community. It’s an introduction and reflection on each of the twelve tenets of the Apostle’s Creed, which seems a suitable place to start furthering my own personal study of theology.
One thing I really do think the Roman Catholic Church has right is RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults), a process whereby newcomers to the RCC are introduced to basic introduction to the faith and teachings of the Church, the Gospel, and given spiritual guidance. They learn how to participate in the various rites and rituals, together with their meanings, and are introduced gradually to the congregation whilst gaining a good foundaton in understanding scripture and doctrine. It concludes at the Easter Vigil with Baptism for those not yet baptised into a Christian denomination, Confirmation, and celebration of their first Communion.
By contrast, newcomers to the Anglican church have virtually nothing in terms of formal instruction or introduction. If one feels ready for Baptism, one approaches the local vicar to express interest. You then have a meeting with the vicar to discuss your reasons for wanting baptism, and depending on that conversation you might need a few more meetings to discuss it further, and you’d ideally have at least one meeting to talk it over with the people who will act as your sponsors in the church. You’d then go on to have a discussion as to the form you’d like your baptism to take (for instance, I will be baptised next month by full immersion, but some people opt simply for sprinkling) and to cover the practical side of things; then you’re baptised in a Sunday morning service in front of the rest of the congregation, and that’s about it. Depending on the church, you might be encouraged to join a Bible study group (at St.Mary’s there are several such groups that meet up mid-week; the one I attend – hosted by the Bakers – was originally set up as an introductory group for new inquirers to the church that has continued on post-Christmas as St.Mary’s goes through the LifeShapes course), but there’s no real organised ongoing education process – you basically pick up on how to behave in church by following what everyone else does. At a church like St.Mary’s, it’s made a little easier as the congregational responses and words of hymns are projected onto screens around the church, thus making it a little easier to follow what’s going on, but that isn’t necessarily the case in all Anglican churches.
I do feel it would be helpful and useful if the Anglican church had a process similar to RCIA for new converts; I have often thought that Catholics get a much more comprehensive education as to the “basics” of their faith than those within the C of E. There’s nothing to stop people such as myself educating ourselves through books, of course – but there is such a wide selection of books available out there that it is hard to know where to begin or which authors to trust without a friendly word of advice from a more experienced theologian. Introduction to Christianity, whilst written from the Catholic point of view, appears to be an excellent starting point – but it would be so much more useful to have a more organised introductory course with recommended texts, and perhaps one useful resource such as an equivalent of the Catholic Catechism that could be resorted to further. There are so many things that a life-long Anglican might simply take for granted that would not be common knowledge to a newcomer, and controversial courses such as the Alpha Course are focused on getting converts into the church – not educating them once they are there.
At the moment I am mostly concentrating on the lead-up to my own baptism, but I already have my eyes on what will come afterwards, as discussed with Jackie and David Baker (my sponsors). The next logical step appears to be Confirmation, but in the long term I do want to get further involved with the ministry side of things. I have been looking into the process by which one becomes a Reader, but I feel I need to improve my scriptural understanding first and deepen my understanding of theology.