I find the most powerful day of the liturgical year to be the Feast of Pentecost. It is powerful for its meaning and mystery, and also powerful for its layered representation of life and faith stages. It is especially powerful, for those who observe the faith stages of Sofia Cavalletti’s Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.
In the celebration of Pentecost, in the choice to take part or to seek understanding of this conclusion of the Easter season, in this beginning of the “growing” season, an individual parishioner might reflect on their own relationship with the Holy Spirit and may witness the current energy (low or high) of their parish, which also tends their faith. If we believe in the active nature of The Spirit working through us, the liturgy of Pentecost day literally shines a light on it. As Cavalletti writes in History’s Golden Thread, “The Holy Spirit, who permeated the human body of Jesus and brought him back to life, is by nature dynamic and diffusive.”
This year, as we approach the Feast of Pentecost, indoors and together at St. Anne’s in Lincoln, MA, we will witness how our parish community is currently experiencing faith development in the worldly timeline of 2022. For a few hours the ages and stages of parishioners will be on display in our preparations, service, and parish picnic attendance. If we attend this high feast to remember the appearance of the Holy Spirit to the apostles of Jesus, my personal viewpoint will be exemplifying Fowler’s Synthetic-Conventional Faith stage: attendance for the sake of community health and identity as an active member. Others who attend may be in that stage, as well, or may fondly remember the years of full sensory Pentecost celebrations pre-Covid and bring their families to enjoy the beautiful symbols cherished in the Mythical-Literal Faith stage. The power of the first Pentecost in the rush of wind, the tongues of fire, and the speaking in languages of all nations offers rich storytelling imagery, but also creates an opening for the risky business of turning off some guarded New Englander white people, perhaps “unchurched” in the Episcopal tradition—those in the “searching” faith stage (John Westerhoff, Will Our Children Have Faith?).
As a child of the Catholic Church in a lower/middle income, white community, I don’t remember any experiences with Pentecost at all; I cannot recall a single one. When I brought my four- and five-year-old children to the Episcopal Church in the fall of 2006, it was late in the season of Pentecost, and I had no idea what that meant. By Easter, my kids had experienced Catechesis of the Good Shepherd’s introductions to liturgical nomenclature: infancy narratives in Advent, kingdom parables, songs to accompany them all, and The Good Shepherd as a centering symbol of Christ. When Pentecost came, they cupped their votive candles lit from red tapers that symbolized the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and they processed with flames and doves on tall dowels. They were mesmerized and as a thirty-something mom of three at that point, so was I. I had been in a stage of Individual/Reflective Faith (Fowler) for several years and departed from my family for the Episcopal Church, where mystery was still experienced, but questions were accepted, and every child learned about seven possible qualities of their spirit, the Holy Spirit. “Which do you want? Which do you need today?”
Fire, of course, is the students’ universally shared favorite symbol in church. They see smaller versions of the Pascal Candle and baptismal candle lit in presentations in the 3-6-year and 6–9-year Atriums, and they are gathered around the font for every baptism for a clear view, including of a godparent who will (on behalf of the baby), “Receive the Light of Christ!” They raise their hands at our Prayer Table in the Atrium and call out, “Can I snuff?!” They volunteer to carry torches as acolytes with enthusiasm in third and fourth grade. In any faith stage, this visual/sensory symbol of fire is easy to maintain.
Revisiting or lingering in the early childhood stages of faith development, particularly post-covid, might not mean stunted faith development, or regressive faith development. If we believe that faith foundations can begin in childhood, then the earliest natural sensory and experienced stage is as rich a faith as any owned or mature stage when it comes to the work of the Spirit. When our rich environments of the Atrium were closed in Lent of 2020, we moved to Zoom closeups, and strained to see with our diverse camera quality. Other catechists and I presented parables with wooden figures from an empty room at church or from a coffee table at home, and we knew the students’ words and framed faces would hold us as church. In preparation for Pentecost 2020, we collected red things in our homes, to make fun photo collages.
Meanwhile, my daughter, who’s in-person graduation was canceled, watched her livestream/Zoom ceremony in tears. However, she was invited by our Rector to join him, the organist, and the livestream tech in our sanctuary, to preach in-person at the Pentecost service. She wore a red dress and recalled the rushing wind as the power of nature we all sought that spring of isolation, the tongues of fire landing above the ancient people’s heads and the currently painful doubt we all were talking about globally. She shared her memories of Pentecost at St. Anne’s. At the livestreamed Offertory Anthem, her best friends and school classmates––triplets who had come up through our Catechesis program as well––had recorded a hymn to accompany the students’ slideshow celebrating the liturgical color of red.
For those early apostles, “Everyone was filled with awe” (Acts 2:43). In the Baptismal Covenant proclaimed and affirmed during the Easter Vigil and at the Rite of Confirmation, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church.” We are in a wobbly stage of absences and inconsistencies lately. Yet our Confirmation students made it through their rite with persistent parents, half of them raised in the Catholic Church, and the gentle and sometimes irregular, ebb and flow of calls from clergy and lay teachers for almost two years of pandemic time, urging them to “Come,” “Try,” “Be here for each other like you were as children.” They followed our call, and it was awesome. This Pentecost, I hope to have these new adults of the Church pass out votives to the congregation, lighting from the seven candles before the altar, selecting which gift each needs on the that day: knowledge, understanding, wisdom, counsel, piety, fortitude, awe.
This article was originally written in early May as a practical application for Faith Formation Leaders Training, a course with Sharon Ely Pearson through Pathways for Baptismal Living at Bexley Seabury. The assignment was to apply faith stages to your life as you’ve observed them, and I chose to trace them through my experiences on the Feast Day of Pentecost.
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