Traditionally the catechumenal process divides into four phases with a variety of names. Paul Galbreath in Leading through the Water uses these: Inquiry; Preparation; Baptism; Reflection. The period of Inquiry/Seeking/Pre-catechumenate allows those curious about the Christian faith to find out what it is all about and to explore a potential relationship with the church. Early in its history when the church lived on society’s margins, as it increasingly does today, this exploratory period allowed the church to gauge the seriousness and commitment of potential candidates for baptism. The candidates also could inquire about the church’s way. Today these emphases have flipped. Pre-catechumenate is focused more on the candidate’s inquiry of the church, rather than the church’s inquiry of the candidate. Perched on society’s margins, often what develops curious attraction is the church’s unique behaviors. As Alan Kreider in his seminal book, The Change of Conversion, observes: behavior, belonging, and belief all functioned together to create intrigue and interest in the unchurched. Today Inquiry aims to foster the experience of authenticity in the church’s life through the integration of belief, belonging, and behavior. Galbreath advocates for inquirers to watch Christians as they live the Way. And they should be asked to serve alongside Christians. If the church regularly serves at a homeless shelter, the inquirer should, as well. Through these new behaviors the inquirer perceives the contrast of the Christian way of life with the ways of life in the world. Doing this may require a significant cultural shift in a congregation. The congregation may need to form its own members into new ways of being and living. For Galbreath, this way of living is baptism’s public dimension. Practices form Christians according to God’s claims in baptism, giving shape to Christian identity. Galbreath notes three practices manifesting this identity:
- Christians witness from the margins of society about the possibility of new life.
- Christians stand with and for the poor by offering hospitality and generosity.
- Christian faith takes root as our actions conform to the gospel’s call to faithful discipleship.
In doing so Christians live a different way of life and believing that is intriguing to others. We are “clarifying the ways baptismal practice embodies our understanding of discipleship” (25). When such credibility exists between what Christians believe and how they live, and the seeker experiences that, then Inquiry begs the question of the inquirer: Are you interested in changing your life?