THE Church of England needs a “major, deep renewal” of its thinking about Christian formation, the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Steven Croft, has said this week. He was introducing a new catechism that, he hopes, will form part of the answer.
The catechism, The Pilgrim Way, was launched last week, and is available on the Church of England website and in print. It takes the form of a series of questions and answers on the four texts that form the basis of the Pilgrim Course, which he produced with three co-authors four years ago, in response to a request from the House of Bishops for a new piece of work on catechesis (News, 11 October 2013). These texts are: the Apostles’ Creed, the Beatitudes, the Commandments, and the Lord’s Prayer.
“We felt the need for something really simple and straightforward,” Dr Croft said on Monday. The texts — which had received “very positive responses” from trial audiences — were designed as “a tool for Christian formation”, to prepare people for baptism and confirmation rather than as a way of defining doctrine. Any attempt to revise or replace the official catechism of the Church, last revised in 1962, would require a full Synodical process.
Many different resources are used, however, including the Alpha course and Emmaus. Dr Croft said that he had been surprised to learn from The Christian’s ABC, by Professor Ian Greene, that, between 1530 and 1740, there was evidence of more than 1000 catechisms written by clergy.
During this period, clergy had invested a “tremendous energy” in catechesis, and were expected, when first ordained, to produce “catechismal sermons” with expositions of the Lord’s Prayer and the Creed.
While committing things to memory had “almost completely dropped away as a practice”, it had been “very common” in his childhood, Dr Croft said. He was drawn to St John Chrysostom’s “beautiful” description of catechesis as “creating a strong echo of the living word of God in the heart of the believer”.
“I think we need a major, deep renewal of our thinking about Christian formation and catechism for the 21st century,” he said. “We have had 30 years now of relearning how to do this through things like Alpha, but we still have not put formation back at the heart of Church life sufficiently.”
The Pilgrim Way is published by Church House Publishing: www.chpublishing.co.uk/books/9781781400630/pilgrim-way.