Forming Relationships in Christ: The Central Role of Sponsors
Central to a compelling catechumenate is the role of adult sponsors for the catechumens. For a congregation slow-walking toward faith formation practices, developing adult sponsors for the catechumens is one of the lowest hanging fruit, a relatively easy starting place for a congregation. Catechumenates that are successful at transforming catechumens into committed participants in the Body of Christ need congregations that are actively involved in the catechumenate. The catechumenate needs to be seen as the mission of the entire congregation with every baptized member involved in one way or another. One of the easiest ways to participate in the catechumenate is to serve as a sponsor.
But what exactly do adult sponsors do? We all know about sponsors for infant candidates for baptism, but obviously adult sponsors serve in a somewhat different way. Sponsors are the primary relationship point with the congregation. Sponsors are a central facet of shaping the assembly’s hospitality toward the catechumenal newcomer. They are the primary agent for facilitating the stranger’s entrance into the Christian community, the primary point of hospitable reception. Sponsors are among the primary mentors who provide the inquirers and catechumens with an apprenticeship in the faith. They are open to facilitating the exploration that the new Christian has assumed. The sponsors are the primary ones to be sensitive to all that the church asks the catechumens to leave behind and they can be both wise and kind in their sensitivity. They can most hospitably lead the inquirers and catechumens to negotiate the change to which their encounter with God’s Word calls them. Here is authentic relationship in the flesh through faith in the God who calls us into life together.
Sponsors primary role in the catechumenate includes the following. They serve as a listening board for the catechumens. They bear witness to how a life of faith sets the agenda for Christian living in the world by bearing witness to the confrontation with sin in their own lives and with the desire to live by God’s grace. They pray with the catechumens, modeling a life of prayer and teaching them how to pray. They bear witness to the import of the Word of God in their lives and how they wrestle with the Word. They journey with the catechumens, attending worship with them and joining them in their catechumenal formation classes as possible. Lastly, they model a life of servant love to the catechumens. In essence, they live their Christian life in the open for the catechumens to see.
What then is the best way to select and train sponsors? Given the fact that they are bearing witness to and reflecting upon what the life of the Christian looks like, sponsors should be those who are committed to their life of faith—attending worship regularly and willing to reflect on their life of faith. Training might entail encouraging and informing their prayer life, reinforcing their basic catechetical knowledge, and teaching them how to give witness to formative narratives from the Scriptures that shape their own baptismal identity. Sponsors do not need lengthy, formal training. They just need to be equipped to give voice to and model their own baptismal journey, imperfect and incomplete but looking toward the wholeness of baptismal identity in Christ the Lord.
The catechumenate is an apprenticeship in the Christian faith. Sponsors serve as the primary models and relationship-building center for the catechumenal apprentices.