Pat Ball, Guest Contributor for Discerning Deacons
Last week was such an exciting and enriching week for me. I felt the Holy Spirit hovering and whispering in so many ways, some of which have been mind blowing.
I sensed the Spirit in my bones the day I read in the National Catholic Reporter that Loyola University of Chicago had scheduled a Zoom forum in which Pope Francis will engage with young people to hear their thoughts and feelings about the future of the Church on February 24th. Check it out here.
I participated in the Discerning Deacons opening retreat for synodal animators – which furthered my sense of the historic moment we are in as we gathered from over 50 dioceses in the US and around the world! We could sense the Holy Spirit inviting us to engage others, and I was grateful to be able to connect DD’s animating work along with what we have been carrying out in my own parish in Baltimore Maryland.
For the last few weeks, our parish team at St. Vincent’s has been sending a synod newsletter weekly which includes reflections from our synod planning team and twice weekly prayer prompts, which invite parishioners to pray and submit responses anonymously. We also sent out a survey to everyone on our mailing list which solicited thoughts on the current and future state of the Church. We have reached out to all parishioners and former parishioners including: children, young adults, seniors, LGBTQ+, and homeless. We have offered listening sessions and/or 1:1 interviews and we have gotten an overwhelming response. The people are ready to be consulted!
We also hosted our first listening session for those of us who have agreed to be facilitators and scribes in this process. After months of preparation, discernment, and the hiring of a consultant to assist us in this process, we were given this opportunity to share our own thoughts and feelings with the consultants as facilitators. Not only did this give us the opportunity that we would not otherwise have had because of our role as facilitators, it gave us the chance to experience the process we were going to facilitate.
The consultants used 4 tools to facilitate discussion. Two were visual and 2 were verbal. One visual was a collage that allowed participants to identify a picture that spoke to them about the church or their relationship with the church. The other asked participants to draw how they saw the church in the past, now, and in the future. Drawings were not shown, but talked about. The two verbal tools used stories or quotes that parishioners had submitted as part of the surveys or prayer prompts to which they had responded. Participants could respond and speak to how they felt about them. The following night, the consultants provided us with training for conducting our listening sessions.
In order to encourage other parishes in our archdiocese –some who are not yet engaging in this Spirit-full process– I have reached out to our auxiliary bishop. He is the coordinator for this process and, together with members of my parish, we are going to find ways to reach out to those whose parishes have not initiated their own process
I count myself as so blessed to be a part of this parish and Discerning Deacons and find myself incredibly hopeful right now.
With hope and gratitude,