Google Images Boston Community Choir
I'm coming to appreciate a new image of the Holy Spirit: conductor. No, not the kind on a train; the kind who can take hundreds of musicians with varying levels of talent, commitment, interest and experience and create a choir that sings with beautiful harmonies. That's what the synod Synthesis Report writers said. "We have sought to sing like a choir, many voices as though expressing one soul. The Holy Spirit has gifted us with an experience of the harmony that He alone can generate; it is a gift and a witness in a world that is torn and divided." The Holy Spirit as conductor. I think the metaphor can teach us a lot as we now try and offer a Synod-style encounter with the Spirit. The conductor who creates harmony, in our localities.
I believe the Holy Spirit as conductor is a lot like one who serves as a community choir conductor. Everyone is welcome. All levels of skill are welcome. The only requirements: love for music and the willingness to submit to another's leadership. Parishes are a lot ike community choirs: all kinds of people come because they share one thing in common---music made with their voices for choirs and some desire to connect to other Catholic Christians for parishes. After that, the gifts, talents, experience, commitment, skills, cooperation, teachability and joy vary widely. Sounds like a parish to me. So, how does a conductor do it? How did the Holy Spirit create the harmonies that came from the first Assembly of the Synod on Synodality? What do parishes and dioceses who want to gove others an experience of synod-style listening and discernment need to keep in mind as they set out to allow the Holy Spirit to be in charge.
First, let's honor the fact that no one really knows the Holy Spirit's methods. God's ways are not our ways. But, we do know what we contribute to create a place and space where the Holy Spirit can take the gifts we offer and multiply them, creating a whole that is far greater than the sum of the parts. This is a critical understanding if the experience is to now be brought to even more people. So what did the Holy Spirit, the conductor (protagonist) of the Synod, have to work with to create harmonies? Here are some elements. If you've more to add, please do so in the comments so we can create a list of conditions that will allow the conductor Spirit to work.
So first, the people. They were chosen by their respective groups or by the Holy Father. Their very chosenness began to create space within them. How much? Varies as the individuals vary. With what outcomes? Varies, as the individuals vary. But the people present, chosen to participate were influenced by their very chosenness.
Parish tip: Hand-select some participants and train facilitators before reaching out to others with an invitation to speak their truth in a conversation in the Spirit.
A second element pertaining to the people was the call for many relationships to be forged both during the actual synod and during the prayers, pilgrimages, meals and walks. Unlike past synods where people sat in the same place for a month, next to the same people, this synod sought to create community by the way in which it was administered. Delegates were forced to practice hospitality and to see the image of God in each participant, several times over. Early reflections and comments indicate this "worked" with the most common phrase heard on the last day, with warmth and anticipation: "See you next year!"
Parish tip: Zoom based gatherings and single encounters cannot create this community. Consider how to structure this process so that community is built.
Next the space. Those round tables on a single level, gift of the Asian Church to the synod process, reflected some fundamental truths of our faith: there's an equality that flows from baptism, there's an interconnectedness within a circle. Further, like the first Pentecost, each delegate was able to hear in their own tongues thanks to technology, and to see clearly through the use of cameras. Space. It both proclaimed what we believe and celebrated the modern age.
Parish tip: Get those round tables! It matters.
Next, the process. Facilitated conversations in the Spirit, with the call to attentive listening and thoughtful responding, periods of silence, prayer with a centering of the Eucharist and the Word of God. Preparation was expected. Adherence to the process expected. Honesty was expected. Outcomes were expected: convergences, divergences and proposals. It was one work being done by 365 delegates: unity in the diversity. Incompleteness was a given.
Parish tip: Don't downplay what participation in listening to the Holy Spirit involves. Set expectations for the facilitators and parishioners. And when inviting those on the margins to participate, give them the tools that can help them do so.
Next, time. For most of you reading this, time is a precious commodity. Learning to work in both chronological time, enslaved to clocks and attention spans and to-do lists, and kairos time, where God works in God's ways when God is ready, is a challenge. For many, this alone will call for a huge conversion in our American Church. We just don't like things to take so much time. Yet at the Synod, time was both monitored carefully and given more: the 11 months between this gathering and the next leaves plenty of room for the Spirit to continue to speak. Seems the Spirit is asking this of us...to give this the time the Spirit needs.
Parish tip: Give this the time it deserves. Change priorities and workload expectations. Clear parish calendars. Ask those who want to participate to do the same, acknowledging the need for kairos time in the midst of our calendar and clock driven culture.
Finally, the outcomes asked of this Synod assembly were made clear. At its conclusion, having practiced conversations in the Spirit and shared reports, a team of listeners and writers would create a document whose purpose is further listening to the Spirit. That document would not gloss over differences, or call for false consensus. It would list areas of convergence, areas needing more study and it would provide a first set of proposals...of "What now?" That document would be voted on paragraph by paragraph, and when complete, released into our hands to continue the discernment for the coming months.
Parish tip: Let participants know who will receive the fruits of your synodal conversations. Some suggestions include the pastor (who should actually be participating according to the Synthesis Report), your parish leadership, and US...the Pentecost Vigil Project, Inc. Send a copy to your Bishop. And, perhaps in a few days or weeks, we'll know how the US Bishops plan to handle these 11 months. We'll let you know what they say!
If the primary work now is to enable as many of the baptized as possible to experience conversations in the Spirit so they too can come to understand its gift to communion, to peace, to hope and to mission focus, then it's important that those planning these ongoing conversations attend to these elements.
And the final idea deserving of our attention as we seek to hear the voice of the Spirit: adapt this within your culture. One of the discoveries in the next 11 months will be the cultural variety conversations in the Spirit and discernment in common take. Here's the caveat...make sure the adaptations still provide for a variety of participants, respect the dignity of each person's baptism and therefore their wisdom, and give enough time and space for the Spirit to speak not just in the experiences of the people, but in the Scripture, Tradition, signs of the times and through other knowledge streams.
Now...to what is the Spirit calling your family, your small community, your Council, Committee, staff, ecumenical ministries, and those who touch the people most in need? Listen...listen...what are the hopes, dreams, joys and sorrows? What wisdom and knowledge are they sharing? How should your parish/diocese be organized to respond with love, mercy, compassion and tenderness?
From all of our voices, the Spirit will conduct the Church and make of her a choir whose harmonies bring meaning, hope, justice, peace and love to the world...if we will but follow the Holy Spirit's lead. So let's go!
The Pentecost Vigil Project is ready to help your leaders learn how to be synodal style leaders. Contact us! We'll share our workshop information with you.
We're also prepared to help the baptized within your sphere of influence unpack the great grace, gift and promise of their baptism. Contact us! We'll talk with you about this parish-wide retreat.
Want to give some of your people a small taste of a conversation in the Spirit so they have an idea of what this is like? Check out our free guide!
We're here to help you unleash the Spirit of synodality in your sphere of influence. It's what the first session of the Synod said is necessary....to give others a taste of the Holy Spirit, alive and at work here and now! It's exciting, don't you think?