I'm so pleased to introduce our next pair of guest bloggers, Dennis and Loretta Beeman of Richmond, VA! They are both PVP Leadership Team members who bring a wealth of spiritual, intellectual and practical wisdom to this work from their professions as faith formators and for Loretta, as a Catholic school teacher. Read on to discover their experience with sacred listening circles in their parish.
Back in the winter of 2022, we said “yes” when our pastor asked us to coordinate our parish Synod efforts here at Redeemer parish near Richmond, VA. We were both already studying the Synod documents through our involvement in the Pentecost Vigil Project (PVP).
We advertised the sessions to parishioners as an opportunity to both share their own experiences of being a parishioner at Redeemer and in the Church at large, and to listen to other parishioners share their own experiences. Some 200+ parishioners came to 12 different sessions. They shared, listened to each other, and prayed together.
The lead-off question that we asked people to respond to was “What in your experience of the parish and the Church at large warms your heart?” The corresponding question “What in your experience of the parish and the Church at large breaks your heart?” was also asked.
Other questions in the Synod categories of Communion, Participation, and Mission were also asked. But the overwhelming response to the synodal process of both listening and speaking out was extremely positive. Many shared “no one has ever asked me to come and be heard regarding my life in the Church. What a great experience!”
The positive comments echoed and echoed again over the coming weeks. So, some eight months after the Synod listening sessions, we decided to offer to the parish the new course that PVP had developed, Christ Present in the Eucharist. It was a great chance to both use the synodal process of listening and sharing and revive interest in the Eucharist by studying what the documents of Vatican II teach us about the celebration of the Eucharist.
Same result! People loved learning what the Church teaches about the Eucharist, while also having a chance to share their own experience and listen to the experiences of others.
One of our facilitators, Jane, who facilitated groups in both the general Synod sessions and the Christ Present in the Eucharist series, said “I believe the synodal process was a welcoming and open way to discern the concerns of the community, and to learn more about the Catholic Church.” She continued “the approach was non-threatening - it didn't matter if you didn't know much about the topic, this became an opportunity to listen and learn. If you are more of an introvert, the process allowed you time to speak. Importantly, it was time to learn how much you and your fellow congregants share in the way of concerns that seem to be driving people away from the Church.”
Terri, another facilitator, shared her experience. “My experience of the synodal process was very positive. I appreciated listening to the Church's teaching, and I learned some new things about the topics. I really appreciated the opportunity to share my understanding of the topics and listening to others' opinions and understanding without fear of criticism or interruption. I learned a lot and gained new ways to look at some things.”
The small group sharing and listening component was rated highest in the series evaluations by the participants. They found the groups “personal and not intimidating; listening, instead of arguing.” Several times groups insisted on continuing their discussions over the scheduled end of the program.
We hope to build on this enthusiasm by presenting other topics in the synodal style. Next up, because it is timely, will include studying the recently released instrumentum laboris for the October Synod allowing for parishioners to practice what this document calls a primary element of synodality: spiritual listening.
So here’s the news flash: People like to be listened to! And here’s our bit of wonder: who would have thought the Holy Spirit would lead us here?
Unsplash photo Tim Marshall