LISTENING CIRCLE GROUPS
As our Servant Leadership Team made a commitment that we were going to go into this process synodally where the Spirit’s influence along with our prayer and discernment would help us walk the winding journey together. We prayed at the opening of every meeting for the Spirit’s Unity to bind us together as the early Christians were, as shared in the Book of Acts.
Our process was to create small groups to dialogue around a provocative question. We themed our groups with the title Becoming church in the Modern World. We chose to focus on where change had promise to occur, therefore, we chose a futuristic approach with a focus on what the people could do in this transition. Our dialogue question: Where has religion gotten in the way of your faith? The question startled and challenged many and it was perhaps the first time they began to think about the independence of institutional religion and the faith that forms their values, behaviors and insights.
We adopted Francis’ New Evangelization as our approach and used a Circle Way facilitator to build respectful, trusting relationships within the group, to listen deeply to the opinions of others with no interruption. The process was deemed as exceedingly strong and there was validation that everyone was heard fully when they spoke.
We recognized that the critical institutional issues are systemic and which we do not “own”, cannot control or change. Despite the innumerable times systemic changes were called for by the People of God it is not until Francis’ election that they became the criteria for his Pontificate, therefore, Francis “owns” the internal cultural transitions that will ultimately lead to clerical transformation. We created a model used previously in our 2011 conference, the American Catholic Council, but found that our process was in competition with the Vatican process. We received a number of replies saying they had already participated in their parish or diocese so their contribution would be redundant. We attempted to clarify the difference embedded in our process but it was futile. The Spirit nudged us to change our model.
We have enough information on the trend shaping participant responses to develop the next step in the process, which will engage participants in drafting the response to the Vatican for the 2023 Synod. We will continue our work following the August deadline to begin to implement the actions that will appear in the Vatican response.