Innovation and sustainability within the Church


Pope Francis requested two criteria, innovation and sustainability, be used in developing our response to the Synod on Synodality.  Both provide their own challenge.  Church and innovation appear to be experientially contradictory.  One has a “don’t think, just follow” foundation while the other has a creative, free-thinking explosion of “what-ifs” paralleling child-like day-dreaming.

Did you ever daydream in school because the subject matter was weighed in boring concepts?  Scripture has a lot to say about children and their ability to think and occasionally live outside the box. Innovation is that very place where our minds take a 40,000 ft. view of life as it is while the Church, as we know it, is the box.  Francis’ request is radical.  He wants a sea of ideas intermingling to produce a robust faith and a flexible/adaptable institution that is collegial, collaborative and cooperative in play with an ever-changing cosmos and world.  

Innovative ideas force us to imagine what’s possible.  That excursion has a price.   It demands we stop walking in lockstep to man-made rules and skip on the path we share broadening and deepening how we could be agents of change in a world that to the naked eye is in chaos. 

How does relate to faith, and institutional Church?  That appears to be what Pope Francis’ outreach is all about when he asks us to define what the church of the future might look like and what concrete behaviors are imbedded in it.  That’s where many of us in the Peoples Synod live; we imagine thinking and talking about faith mixed with lived experience as the secret sauce used to help us deal with the divisions around us.  

We are a divided people ignoring the engine of i faith that is the sustaining agent of our own lives driving for intentionality each and every day where prayer and discernment entertain ideas that are not commonplace.  There is an inherent urgency for this kind of thinking not just because Pope Francis’ mobility is challenged and many are already talking about his retirement or his successor.  Having a sense of urgency to develop new skill sets at this fragile time has greater emphasis than considering sustainability as a stand-alone concept.

Living faith-driving lives built is the cornerstone of sustainability where faith values could serve for long-term, multi-dimensional efforts to larger sustainable transitions.  As Americans we tend to be bottom-line thinkers naturally asking “what end result are we seeking?”  It’s a difficult question to answer because connecting church and sustainability have never been interwoven before but with shrinking attendance and the greatest statistical population of Catholics being prior Catholics, sustainability must be a new topic of conversation, planning and expediting.  For the short term then, the question posed must have a process response.

We are at a critically historic moment.  Once, sustainability is defined, we know we need it; we know that the Times call us more to action than ever before but since we have not thought in these terms in the past, we are struggling within a self-built vacuum waiting for the Genie in the Bottle to save us.  If, however, we engage in innovation, however,  we can view that Genie as our alter-ego inviting us to that Emmaus Walk toward sustainability.


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