By Dan Teets
For The Catholic Messenger
In early March 2020, all of the elect and candidates at St. Mary Catholic Church and the Newman Catholic Student Center in Iowa City were preparing to be fully initiated into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil the following month. Then along came a pandemic, COVID-19! How would they complete their preparation and move toward the celebration of the sacraments of initiation (baptism, confirmation and Communion)?
I was on phased retirement from the Acquisitions and Cataloging and Metadata departments at the University of Iowa Main Library. During this time of the pandemic, each week on Friday mornings the university’s director of libraries met with all staff on Zoom (video conference). Departmental meetings also took place on Zoom. I learned to use Zoom fairly quickly and ended up retiring virtually from the UI Libraries after 29-1/2 years over Zoom.
As director of Adult Faith Formation at St. Mary and of RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults) at the Newman Center, I decided to use Zoom to continue the formation of the elect (individuals preparing for all three sacraments of initiation). They started meeting together online on the fifth Sunday of Lent for Breaking Open the Word. There were no doughnuts served, and people had to bring their own coffee or juice, but the group did get together online weekly to continue learning about God through reflection on his Word in the Sunday readings and prayer.
On the Easter Vigil, April 11, due to COVID-19 guidelines, just seven people attended the recorded Mass in person at St. Mary Church and fewer than 10 at the Newman Center. The sacraments of initiation did not take place. The Vigil is just not the same without a congregation and the celebration of adults and children receiving the Easter sacraments.
I decided to keep meeting with the adult elect on Zoom during the Easter Season. This was the first time in over 30 years of working with the RCIA that I experienced Breaking Open the Word using the readings for the Easter Season.
The candidates (persons who have been baptized) from the winter/spring group had the option to complete their sessions by listening to audios online and providing a synopsis of what they learned. I responded to questions and provided links or attachments for other teaching resources by email or phone.
The elect and candidates had various options to complete their initiation. Three adult elect were fully initiated into the Catholic Church in June. Two received the sacraments at St. Mary’s in Iowa City and one at his home parish in Urbandale, Iowa. Three of the adult candidates were confirmed in July or August at the Newman Center. Two were confirmed at weekend liturgies and one at a daily Mass.
University of Iowa student Elizabeth LeMar chose to be confirmed at the daily Mass at the Newman Center on Aug. 19. She is studying computer science and engineering, serves on the Outreach Lead Team and is a member of the Newman Singers. She described her experience:
“Preparing for confirmation with Dan was a little bit different because it was over Zoom, but it was so nice of him to spend that time with me. In that Zoom we reflected on the Gospel (reading) of the Prodigal Son, which is one of my favorites, and discussed how it pertains to our lives before and after confirmation.”
“Celebrating confirmation as an adult was an extremely beautiful experience for me. I don’t think I would’ve understood its true meaning if I would’ve gotten confirmed when some of my peers did. Now that I am practicing and have others to run towards God with, I know that I will be able to serve the church as a confirmed person should. I can’t wait to keep learning more!”
Five students from the winter/spring group are in the process of choosing how best to go forward. Two are joining the summer/fall group to complete their preparation for confirmation. Two of the elect from the 2019-2020 group are deciding when they will receive the sacraments of initiation.
Meanwhile, I am welcoming another group of inquirers from St. Mary’s and the Newman Center. This group will have online audios and videos for the teaching sessions and also have two options each week (Sunday mornings or Tuesday evenings) to meet with the RCIA Team members, sponsors and significant others on Zoom for fellowship, sharing faith stories, discussion of the teaching sessions and other topics, and prayer.
(Dan Teets is director of Evangelization and Adult Faith Formation, St. Mary Parish, Iowa City, and director of RCIA, Newman Catholic Student Center, Iowa City.)