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How do I recognize synodality? Part 2 in a series

This begins another series of blogs wherein 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.

In my parish, the pastor and some of the other leaders are telling us we are acting synodally in certain areas of the parish. I'm not sure that description is actually communicating anything meaningful to most people and I am sure that for those of us a little further along the #synodjourney, we are wondering in what capacity the word is being used. Let's just say we'd like to know more, but alas, that's not forthcoming. Perhaps this is your situation as well...the word is in use, but you are not sure what it is describing, and if it's being used with a shared understanding. That's what this series of blogs is intended to address so that by the time we are done both writing and hearing from one another, we will have a few more road signs along the way.

The first blog named four signposts that synodality is being practiced:

  • Parishioners know their individual gifts, where they are needed in the parish and it's easy to enter into parish activity with their gifts.

  • There's a regularly scheduled, structured way for parishioners and leaders to listen deeply to one another, in safe spaces where the norm is speaking truth in love, for the good of the Church and where often Conversations in the Spirit is the method.

  • Parish leadership has sound data on who claims the parish as their "spiritual home" as well as who and what lives within the parish's boundaries, sharing that information freely with the People of God.

  • The rights and responsibilities of the baptized permeate Christian formation at all ages.

This blog will focus on systems and structures within the parish, the "how we do things around here" signs. Again, we are still learning and hope you will help us identify more signs of synodality. But here's our start.

The parish has a Parish Council and other governance structures (staff, Finance Council, Advisory Groups and Committees) that each seek to allow the Holy Spirit to guide them. Signposts that this is in place include they use discernment practices determine membership; they have initial and ongoing formation directly related to their service they pray together during meetings and on retreats; they engage in theological reflection around their activities.

The parish has established expectations for the baptized in order for them to identify what it means to be a registered member, co-responsible for the way in which Christ's mission is carried out through the works of the parish and the baptized have clear expectations of how the parish will equip them for a life of missionary discipleship. Co-responsibility is a hallmark of a synodal parish. As such, co-responsibility has to have clear expression. In a synodal parish (which be definition is mission oriented), each baptized member from childhood (age 7 or so) through the elderly understands what their co-responsibilities are and how to carry them out. They are formed for this work and from it. They are affirmed, guided and corrected along this journey. There is no one among the baptized who is just along for the ride, just an observer, just registered so they can get sacraments or be buried. If you've never set expectations, this in itself is a journey. You might start here with highlighting engagement. And here's an example of a parish's expectations. Right now, I don't know of any parishes who have begun the process of asking their baptized people what they expect from their parish but these conversations happening is a sign of a synodal parish. Suffice it to say, for now, that co-responsibility is not possible if we don't know what to expect from one another.

The parish sees itself as on a conversion journey, and therefore is acknowledging that what has been in terms of attitude and practice is no longer working (if it ever did) to create missionary disciples. Parish leaders have collected the data, identified how the parish fits in the trends, and where elements of the parish's life must change if all the baptized are to be equipped to build the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. In other words, they've taken a loving look at the real. These synodal parishes have given up on the attitude of just working harder to fix the issue of disengagement, and they are not blaming those who are not participating. Synodal parishes are looking at themselves systemically and asking the Holy Spirit to help them discover the answer to, "What do we need to be doing to help all the baptized become students of Jesus (disciples) who share in his mission of the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven?" Here's a paper from the USCCB to start your thinking around this.

Synodally-minded parishes spend most of their energy looking outward into the mission field entrusted to them. They have processes to learn from and about those on the peripheries. They desire to be in grace-filled relationships with the last, the lost and the least: listening, learning, and welcoming one another into a fuller share in the Body of Christ. Further, they are asking what it will take for the baptized to turn their attention to the peripheries and margins, to the places Jesus went to share good news. And they ask, what do they need to do to equip the baptized for these relationships, the works of charity and justice, these encounters with Christ? A synodal parish is being very intentional about forming a people with hearts of flesh who share God's preferential option for the poor and believe that God desires God's kingdom to come now, however incompletely, beginning with those whom God most desires to be protected and cared for.

If this feels like a lot, it's because it is both a LOT and perhaps very different from the weekly/monthly calendar of activities within your parish. I know these activities are not currently reflected on my parish's calendar, so if some are doing this work, the rest of us don't know about it nor will we, if past practice is an indicator.. And that's not the way of a synodal parish either. A synodal parish believes that we share what we are learning in order to create a fertile ground for discerning in common what the Spirit has in mind. While we all cannot know everything, we can be generous in sharing what we do know, wonder about and encounter, on the way to hearing what the Spirit is trying to say to us today about our work and how to do it. Remember those regularly scheduled gatherings where truth is spoken in love? This is where all of this can be regularly shared so that we all see more, hear better, listen more attentively and eventually discern together.

Our next blog in this series will focus on synodal leaders and the kinds of signs we will see when leadership takes on the synodal mantle. Until the next blog, do take some time to click the links, to peruse our site, to look lovingly upon your parish, and to ask the Holy Spirit to give you eyes to see and ears to hear.

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