“Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, by God’s grace, is a praying community of service that receives, teaches, celebrates, and shares Christ Jesus.” That is the mission statement for Redeemer Evangelical Lutheran Church, “on top of the Bronx” in NYC. Redeemer, under the pastoral leadership of Bishop Rev. Dr. Dien Ashley Taylor and the diaconal leadership of Deaconess Raquel Rojas, was one of the congregations that participated in Dr. Schuler’s and my research now five years ago. Dr. Schuler and I following our research have maintained close connections to the LCMS congregations (Redeemer; Living Faith, Cumming, Georgia; and St. John, Wheaton, Illinois) and their called leadership, who participated in our research, for a variety of reasons. First, these congregations conduct faith formation in exemplary ways and we want to continue to be able to extol them as models from whom others can learn much. Second, the congregations bear witness to the impact of the catechumenate in congregational life and in the faith lives of the baptized who compose the congregations. To put it directly, the congregations that participated in our research are inspiring. Third, for Dr. Schuler and me these pastoral and diaconal leaders are our faith heroes. They have been investing in the good, but challenging work of faith formation for many years. Their labor for the Lord’s kingdom should not go unnoticed. Dr. Schuler and I have the easy work of promoting conversation and learning about the catechumenate. These leaders are in the faith formation trenches in their congregations and communities day in and day out. They are our faith formation heroes.
For my class this past Monday it was our joy to have Bishop Taylor and Deaconess Rojas join us via Zoom. They graciously and energetically introduced us to Redeemer’s life and especially their catechumenate. Then they entertained good questions from the students regarding various aspects of Redeemer’s faith formation such as: how catechesis takes place in both their adult and youth catechumenate; how they are intentional through their catechumenate about retention of their youth; how they invite strangers to participate in Redeemer’s life and their catechumenate; how they address the desire for baptism in relation to waiting until baptisms take place at the Easter Vigil. As Dr. Taylor noted, it is helpful to put flesh and muscle on the catechumenate, so that it isn’t just some abstract concept out there. One thing he noted in the midst of concrete practices of faith formation is the need to be patiently flexible. Often what is taking place in the catechumenate needs to simmer and percolate and bake longer. And leaders need to let the Spirit lead the catechumenate where it needs to go. That’s the recipe for beauty and grace in the catechumenate and in congregational life. That’s the church “on the top of the Bronx” that receives, teaches, celebrates, and shares Christ Jesus.