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How do I recognize synodality? (Part 1 in a series)

This begins another series of blogs in which we share what we are discovering about how to recognize synodality. We expect there will be more to understand and more signs of it in practice as we journey together, and as the 2nd Assembly of the Synod on Synodality brings forth its wisdom. And we expect some of you have insights you can share with us. Please do! Contact us here. We are co-learners along this #synodjourney.

I wouldn't know synodality if it sat down next to me on the bus! Is that how you are feeling at this point? Not sure what it is, how to recognize it, if it's happening around you or not? If that's the case for you, read on to see what we've been discovering as we start to name specific characteristics of a synodal parish. (Here's some early work we did...still valid...just incomplete.) And just so we're clear, these next identifiers are also incomplete, for the Spirit is still teaching us all what synodality will look like as it takes root. So here's what we're identifying now as constitutive of a synodal parish:

The People of God know their gifts, where they are being called to use them in the parish and beyond its walls, and it's easy to connect with and serve in the parish. There are many tools available to assist parishioners in identifying their gifts. Here are two tools other parishes have used and continue to use with good results: Strengthsfinder (now known as the CliftonStrengths talent assessment) and the Siena Institute's Called and Gifted assessment. Want to take a look at how easy it is for someone to engage with your parish. Check out our blog and suggestions for ways to make it easier to join.

The parish has structured, regularly scheduled ways for the People of God to talk with leaders about what they are experiencing. There is a safe space for the People of God to share their truth in love, for the good of the parish. A synodal parish is a listening parish. Not convinced about how important this is? We did a series of blogs on the science around listening. Here's the first one. But here's the outward sign that listening matters: there are regularly scheduled encounters between the People of God and leaders, where safe spaces are the norm, speaking truth in love is the purpose and Conversations in the Spirit is in use. A second outward sign is the parish teaches, and increasing numbers of members practice good listening skills. Here's a quick checklist of effective listening techniques to get you started!

The baptized (from baptismal preparation, through OCIA, and Christian formation to those already sitting in the pews) understand their rights and responsibilities as the baptized. A synodal parish invests in developing knowledge and understanding of the changes baptism effects, beginning with parents of infants and embedding this understanding throughout the formation of the all the people in the parish. Explorations of the theological and canonical implications of baptism are part of a regularly occurring emphasis in a synodal parish. Want some help beginning on this path? Contact us. We have a parish retreat for adults and consultants who can assist you with this.

Parishioners have a clear sense of who is in the parish, what its mission field is, and how the parish is serving those on the peripheries, as Jesus did. This means leaders have good data about both who is registered in the parish and who attends but is not registered, and leaders know how to interpret that data in light of larger data sets. Leaders share this data with the parish at large, so that all understand who the parish is and what God has collected together to carry out Christ's mission. This means that leaders are clear about the mission field entrusted to it, known as parish boundaries. They know what the boundaries are, who and what is within them, and have acquired the data that will help them understand their assigned mission field. For more on the importance of knowing who's in your mission field, check out this article from Protestant church planter Matthew Fretwell. Leaders then share this information with the parishioners. Finally, leaders identify their specific peripheries: geographic margins, economic margins, sociological margins (such as race, gender, sexual orientation, age, none and dones), and share these with parishioners, on the way to becoming especially attuned to those who dwell on the periphery and so are Jesus' preferential concern. One more important missional consideration: if your parish is well-off, then your mission field may well include an abiding relationship with a parish that is struggling, close by or across the waters. Your peripheries and poor may very well include people who do not speak your language or live on your continent.

In our next blog is this series, we'll start to take a look at parish structures and processes with an eye to characteristics that would let you know they are synodal.

In the mean time, we are on the learning journey regarding these identifiers. Please share with us what you are discovering about how to recognize synodality in practice. You may already be experiencing it, or you may be yearning for it to happen. Contact us...share your perspectives! Help us see from where you stand!

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