by Clyde Christofferson
How should we proceed with support for small communities – “wherever two or three are gathered …”? Cultivation of the “collective wisdom” of the People of God is far more fundamental and important than distinctions (lay or cleric, free or slave, male or female).
Furthermore, it is quite challenging. Do we have reason to believe that a process that is more listening than talking, with discernment of the Spirit as its objective, will work? If those in a small group or “listening circle” listen so that their own contributions are informed by the lived experience of others, then a “collective wisdom” grounded in the Spirit can emerge.
“Collective wisdom” respects diversity. People are in different places on their journeys. So “common ground” is not necessarily an outcome. The loving outcome, prompted by the Spirit, may well be a plurality of views that in combination respects the diversity of the collective.
It is not sufficient that people choose “representatives” who would then participate in such a process. There needs to be participation at the grass roots, so that everyone understands from personal experience – even if that experience is only occasional – how the process works.
If this process is undertaken with care, we might hope that over time its outcomes would earn trust. Then it becomes possible for webs of trust to emerge. This is a long term cultural shift, and should not be burdened with too many urgencies of the moment. It is more important that the process itself be nurtured.
As a practical matter – if we are serious about doing this with care – skills need to be developed gradually. Begin with “listening circles” of the like-minded before engaging people from widely different cultures or perspectives in the same “listening circle”.
If we do nothing more than observe how this process develops in a wide variety of circumstances, so that all can benefit from the experience of others, that will be a significant contribution toward the wisdom of the community.
And do we not need such a process – one that values diversity and cultivates a mutuality of trust – for a coherent voice to emerge out of grass roots participation? As it is said, trust in the Spirit always.
But that kind of trust is hard. The all too human tendency is to organize the process so that it will work in accordance with the light of reason. This is how we got to hierarchy, bringing along patriarchy in its wake. Being patient with participatory listening at the grass roots, testing all things for what is good, is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable position.
When Francis talks about “synodality” perhaps this is the necessary discomfort that must be endured by erstwhile leaders. Like discernment, the process requires patience. It is not merely a coordination project. It has a clear objective -- participation of the whole People of God, from the grass roots, in both a listening church and a teaching church -- but no clear concretization of the objective.
Indeed, how is such an objective possible? It seems impossible. Yet we know it must be possible. Prior models -- in particular the clericalist structures that reached their high-water mark in the pre-Vatican II church -- have demonstrated their inadequacy, most recently manifest in the crisis of clerical sexual abuse.
We need a new paradigm. It is not a matter of identifying such a paradigm and pursuing it, as if an inverted pyramid were a concrete expression of such a paradigm. Rather, we need a strategy for a journey -- a virtual pilgrimage -- guided by the objective but whose concrete expression is open to the Spirit.
The obvious starting point is "structured listening". That is what listening circles and other formats for prayerful small group discussion are about. That is, set aside the governance function. If governance were the starting point the process would rather quickly gravitate – in quite ordinary human fashion – toward a more manageable system of representatives and decision-making protocols agreed to by the representatives.
Avoid that temptation and instead nurture grass roots participation. See what comes of it. There may be many ways to make this work, for the Spirit to have its voice. If we share what comes up from the grass roots there may emerge the initial threads of what can become webs of trust.
This could be the first step in giving practical effect to the "upside down pyramid".
Greetings from ICT Coordination office.
I am writing this email to share a link to AMAZON Bookstore for the purchase of the Second Revised Edition of the Book: Strengthening the Growth of Small Christian Communities in Africa – A Training Handbook for Facilitators. This book is a product of AMECEA Pastoral Department, and proceeds will be for the support of the department.
The book is available for sale in two versions that is the eBook Version and the Paperback version. The link is: Amazon.com (USA) The book is also available on Amazon in other countries.
Thank you for your continued support.
AMECEA ICT Officer
Indian Christian Women’s Movement 1st National Convention ‘Women Take Wing’
PRESS RELEASE 13th August, 2018
About 100 women including nuns and ordained women from churches all over India strongly condemned the weak institutional response of the church to gender violence faced by women in the Church.
The women were attending the first National Convention of the Indian Christian Women’s Movement (ICWM) at Jnanadeepa Vidyapeeth, Pune, on the theme ‘Women take Wing’.
In her keynote address, Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Advanced Center for Women’s Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai, traced the history of Indian women’s movement and the importance and relevance of ICWM in this larger context.
The delegates, cutting across age, region and Christian denomination expssed dissatisfaction at the lack of voice, role and decision making for women in Church structures, and declared their determination to struggle for justice equality, dignity and rights for women, children, Dalits, Tribals, Transgender people and LGBQIA.
They resolved to work together to enhance women’s participation, representation, decision making in the Church and related structures.
In the new normal of sexual violence and polarization in the country, and the abuse of women’s and children’s bodies to settle political and communal scores, the ICWM resolved to partner and work in solidarity with civil society groups and movements in the ongoing battle for justice for survivors and their families.
I have been thinking lately about the forthcoming Peoples Synod in Dallas, set for October 12-14, 2018. Life is in the air! Reformers talk in terms of change, but it’s really no more and no less than becoming more faithful to the Gospel lived and pached by Jesus Christ.
What does this mean for our relationship to the larger institutional Church?
It is important not to be focused onpersuading the larger Church to change – too much like deer in the headlights. Yet there may be a view – off to the side from the headlights – that draws the various reform groups together. Reformers haveput in a lot of time and energy, and that will not be wasted.
A major contribution of Vatican II was recognition that the Church must be a learning Church as well as a teaching Church, and inparticular learning that it is not a Societasperfecta. The sex abuse crisis and governance issues make clear the humanity of this “Barque ofpeter”. In these respects the role of thepeople – at least those willing to accept the role – is like an Ombudsman. The work of the reform community – in its many and varied facets – can BE a virtual institutionalization of the Ombudsman role.
In other respects the various reform groups have been trying to get the Church to changepolicies that fail to measure up to the Gospel. To thesepolicy issues – including women called topriestly ministry, LGBT lived experience, lack of welcome for divorced and remarried, to name some of the most neuralgic – the Church has seemed intractable. Thus the frustration.
It may be opportune to reimagine the “teaching Church”. With respect to the neuralgic issues especially, “teaching” has been about norms and where lines should be drawn. “Teaching” has meant holding fast to traditionalpolicies and resisting pssures to relax thesepolicies. It is a line drawing approach. Ironically, isn’t this approach pcisely what Jesus criticized when he challenged the law of divorce (Deut. 24:1)? We are called to love one another, not draw lines. Loving one another brings the joy ofpossibility, whereas line drawing opts for clarity: “here, and you receive a gold star” or “there, but no further.” Yet the response of the early Church to Deuteronomy 24:1 was another clear line – marriage once, forever. A higher aspiration, surely, but a drawn line rather than opening up love’s joy ofpossibility.
What if the “teaching Church” were reimagined? Francis is already doing that with his emphasis on “what the church most needs is growth in discernment” (remarks to Chilean Jesuits, 1/16/2018) and his advocacy for discernment in Amoris Laetitia. What thepope is doingpicks up on the Vatican II shift from revelation as “propositional statements” to a Trinitarian view of revelation (“God’s self-revelation in Christ by thepower of the Spirit”, Dei Verbum #2) which relies on building a relationship with the Spirit, i.e. discernment.
Reformers have been focusing on unjust rules. But why are they unjust? Under the p-Vatican II model of the “teaching Church” asprotector of lines drawn by biblical and traditional “propositional statements”, changing unjust rules is fighting on the wrong battlefield. The importance of choosing the right battlefield to fight was famously understood by Julius Cesar.
We’ve known this all along. It’s about theprimacy of conscience. But on the wrong battlefield “primacy of conscience” looks like it’s in opposition to God’s “propositional statements”. Conscience appears to have no anchor in God, because “propositional statements” pempt God. We need to change the battlefield, which means reimagining the “teaching Church”. We need a Church whose teaching focus is on discernment of the Spirit rather than “propositional statements” from God.
Francis is moving us in that direction. But it’s not aboutparticular unjust rules. A rule can be helpful and just much of the time, and yet fail to be just some of the time. If it is applied in blanket fashion it becomes unjust on those occasions. Yet a rule lends itself to blanket enforcement. That’s theproblem with a rule-based, line-drawing approach to teaching. Francis is saying very little aboutparticular rules. This may be a strategic decision, because it minimizes the “deer in the headlights” effect. But it frustrates reformers who want Francis simply to change unjust rules.
We need a different image of the “teaching Church”. Injustice is still injustice, so reformers are right to keep up that drumbeat. But thepath to change is through a reimagining of the “teaching Church” so that it is more faithful to Christ and the Gospel, and less poccupied with “propositional statements”. Discernment is the key. Conscience anchored in discernment of the Spirit has itsproper voice.
The common voice of those interested in reform finds its unity in both the Ombudsman role and the vantagepoint of a reimagined “teaching Church”. The Ombudsman role requires independence from the institutional Church, and a vantagepoint for reimagining requires stepping back fromparticular injustices.
These kinds of questions are likely to come up at Peoples Synod in Dallas. participants will be organized into “listening circles” of about a dozen. The underlying synod theme of “tension between law and love”parallels the shift between “propositional statements” toward a more Gospel oriented focus. The intention of theplanners is to sendparticipants home both energized about what ispossible and bonded for mutual support. That psumes, of course, that we get enoughparticipants to make a difference. The Spirit is willing but we the flesh are weak. To help, go to the Peoples Synod Facebookpage and “like it”!