Showing Up for the Discernment

"Recíbanla, Receive Her" ©Laura James/Discerning Deacons, 2022. Used with permission.

As we launched our Phoebe Day kickoff calls, DD’s Anna Robertson offered the following reflection. This Spirit is moving! Check it out! -Ellie 

On Tuesday, March 14th, 2023, 100 of us gathered on Zoom for the first of three St. Phoebe Day Kickoff Calls Discerning Deacons is hosting this month. (If you missed the call, we’ve got two left—register here!) We heard powerful witnesses and field reports from folks animating their communities in Chicago, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, Seattle, Boston, and St. Paul/Minneapolis, and the chat was on fire with people connecting with each other, sharing ideas and email addresses. Together we imagined the possibilities for animating our parishes, campuses, religious orders, schools, organizations, dioceses—and, in turn, our Church—on St. Phoebe’s feast day this September. On this call alone, we added 20 institutions to our list of communities that have the official green light to celebrate St. Phoebe Day this September—with many more committed to walking the path with us and discerning how they might animate their communities during this global discernment about women’s participation in the Church.

Friends, we are showing up to this discernment, and we are finding ourselves transformed along the way.

“But what is there really left to discern? Isn’t it obvious that it’s past time to ordain women as deacons?”

This line of questioning is a pretty common one I hear in my work with Discerning Deacons.

“Enough with discernment! I want action!”

I get it. In a Church that’s known for moving at a snail’s pace when it comes to making changes, it’s easy to hear “discernment” as another excuse for inaction. If you’d asked me a year ago, before I joined the staff team at Discerning Deacons, I probably would have come down on the side of action in the discernment-action binary.

But here’s something I’ve learned in my seven months with Discerning Deacons: that discernment-action binary? It’s false.

When we talk about discernment, we’re talking about a very potent kind of action. When we talk about discernment, we’re talking about what we do, together, with the Holy Spirit, in response to genuine encounters we’ve had across our differences. When we skip this step in a rush to get to the more action-y action, we miss out on the opportunity for transformation along the way.

At this month’s St. Phoebe Day Kickoff Calls, we are inviting you to claim your protagonism in our synodal church as we journey together in a global discernment about what women’s participation ought to look like in our communities. This may sound radical — and, in the traditional sense of radical being a “return to roots,” I suppose it is — but it need not be controversial. By our baptisms we have the right and responsibility to participate robustly in the life of the Church, to shrug off the burdens of clericalism that keep us alienated from our own agency and to step into our power as beloved children of God.

Discerning Deacons was born in part as a response to the Amazon Synod during which the Amazon bishops asked to share the experiences of diaconal women with the Bishop of Rome. DD has the goal of supporting the growing conversation and discernment around the world about women and the diaconate during the global synod. Through amplifying the stories of diaconal women and the communities they serve and supporting the emergence of a culture of synodality in our parishes and institutions, we have sought to create spaces where we can discern and magnify the will of the Spirit for our Church.

Last year, synod reports around the world gave voice to a “critical and urgent” call to “rethink women’s participation” in the Church, naming the themes of women in the diaconate, preaching, and governance as concrete areas for further discernment (DCS #60-65). From where I’m writing in the United States, the U.S. Bishops Conference wrote at the close of the local, listening stage of the Synod that, “[the] next step for the U.S. Church is to give special attention to its parishes and dioceses, even as we continue participation in the continental and universal phases of the Synod, for that is where the People of God most concretely encounter the Spirit at work and where the first fruits of this discernment will be realized” (p.12).

The Catholic Church is rethinking women’s participation. Wherever you come down on the question of how the Holy Spirit is inviting the Church to act in response to this call from multitudes of the faithful, we need you at the table. Showing up for this discernment is both faithful and faith-filled. It is faithful to our Tradition, with its ancient history of synodality, of women deacons, and of trust in the transformative power of encounters across difference. It is faith-filled insofar as our participation presupposes our faith in the Church’s capacity to continue to evolve and adapt in response to the signs of the times, through our active protagonism and discernment inspired by the Holy Spirit.

We need your voice in this discernment; we need your listening for the Holy Spirit. Will you show up?

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“This was such a great learning experience for all of us, and even more so, a chance to build momentum and connection.”
St. Basil's Catholic Parish
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
“We are proud to stand on the shoulders of the many women who have ministered to the people of God throughout time!”
Holy Name of Jesus Parish
New Orleans, LA
“Learning about the history of women in the diaconate gave context to efforts to enable women’s participation in the diaconate today, and it was powerful to celebrate St. Phoebe and uplift the ministry of women in our own community.”
St. John Fisher Parish
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA

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