People don’t always know a practicing Catholic when they come to faith. Finding and matching sponsors can be the slowest skill to develop in being an R.C.I.A. coordinator. Knowing “all the parishioners” is a tall order. Sometimes a new coordinator only knows a handful of parishioners. The 1st step is to have a meeting with other team members and brainstorm a list of “potential sponsors to approach” from your parishioners. The attributes to look for include:
- Someone who has an obvious prayer life (e.g., attends daily Mass or Adoration)
- Someone who is available for weekly sessions
- Someone who displays the virtue of friendship (a good listener, open to a new friendship)
- Someone who would see sharing their faith and the faith journey of another as a great thing
- Someone who can be open to the R.C.I.A. process (meaning they don’t have their own agenda and can work within what you are doing)
- A good practice is do same gender assignments (men are assigned to men, women are assigned to women). In our day and age, it is good to have someone with similar struggles to talk to.
The next step would be to start a database of current sponsors (name, contact information and a few helpful notations). As participants receive their sacraments, ask sponsors if they would like to become a “parish sponsor”. While the parish bulletin might seem an obvious place to “put out your nets”, some caution may be called for. Not all are called to this delicate ministry and turning someone away after you have asked for volunteers can lead to hurt feelings. When I am approached by a parishioner interested in becoming a sponsor (non-solicited), I meet with them and go over the “potential sponsor form," which is included in the appendix of the R.C.I.A. Leader's Manual. If you conduct sponsor trainings every 2-3 months, you can be adding to your list year-round. New sponsors can attend and then be assigned as needed. Part of the agreement should be that the parish sponsor may need to be re-assigned if it isn’t a good fit. Knowing this as part of the training helps when these situations arise.
Once the sponsor sees their role as important and fulfilling, they may ask to be assigned again and again. When making assignments, try to work with certain preferences (some may ask for a participant that is unbaptized, or others will only want to sponsor a participant that will have a shorter time in R.C.I.A.). Since everybody likes to be thanked, try to include a small token of appreciation at Christmas (e.g., a Nativity ornament) and Easter (e.g., a small thank you certificate at Pentecost). It need not be expensive, but gratitude is a virtue we all can practice.
Lastly, but most importantly, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit when making assignments. Sometimes, finding yourself awake during those quiet hours in the middle of the night can be put to good and holy use… pray that God will provide a good “match” for your R.C.I.A. participants. He is always faithful if we listen carefully, and with God’s grace, you will have an abundant group of parish sponsors.