It was a challenge, but it was worth it! We, my wife and I, recently planned and presented a program at our parish to raise awareness about the upcoming Synod on Synodality. We called it “The Synod is ON!” Why? We’ve been part of the Pentecost Vigil Project (PVP) Leadership Team for the past two years and we wanted to localize our effort to promote the Synod and understanding of synodality at our parish.
The dates, Oct. 4-29, have been set since the Synod process began in October of 2021, so we knew we needed to start our planning in early August. We used every publicity mode our parish had available. We have learned the advertising axiom is very true that someone must hear or see something seven times before it finally sinks in! Fortunately, our pastor and our parish office staff were and remain very supportive, so we advertised and advertised and advertised again.
We also wanted to use a synodal process during the program, combining both “content” from an informed Church source with small group processes, utilizing questions that would probe the personal experience of those who would participate. We found an excellent source to describe the Synod, where it came from, and what was going to happen at the Synod. That source was the keynote presentation that Dr. Kristin Colberg of St. John’s University in Collegeville gave at the National Association for Lay Ministry (NALM) annual conference in late May. Dr. Colberg served as a writer for the Continental Stage of the process so has inside experience of the international Synod Process. She is also an energetic and engaging presenter. We took our title for the parish program, “The Synod is ON!,” from her presentation. (We sought and received permission from NALM to use her presentation.)
We worked diligently to put a two-hour program together, bouncing our outlines and potential questions off of PVP team members for their advice. We trained facilitators, many of whom had served in that role in our listening session 18 months ago. Our parish has an excellent facility with a room with comfortable chairs and a big screen monitor on which to show Dr. Colberg’s presentation. Smaller breakout rooms are adjacent.
We tried to raise interest in the parish by using the angle that many of the issues that were raised in our listening sessions 18 months ago turned out to be issues that other Catholics around the world thought were important. Many of our issues made it to “the final cut” in the Instrumentum Laboris (working document) that will guide the Synod itself. Some of those concerns were loss of members (especially young adults), increasing women in leadership, welcoming LGBTQ+ persons and those who divorced and separated, ecumenical opportunities, and more. We used the subtitle “We Spoke; They listened!” to attract interest.
We presented the program in mid-September on three evenings (one virtual) and one daytime morning session. Alas! Only 25 parishioners took advantage of the program! Evaluations were very positive so we feel we had a good design and process. Here are some quotes from evaluations:
· “Surprised that the issues we raised in the parish were the same as others around the world!”
· “Love the shift from totally ‘authoritative’ by Rome to listening to the laity around the world.”
· “Surprised that the cardinals and bishops will actually sit around a table with lay persons.”
· “Those in authority are supposed to listen to the ‘sheep’.”
We just didn’t get many people to participate. I’m convinced that the Synod just isn’t on the radar of most people in the pew. In our diocese it wasn’t promoted by the bishop and many pastors. Just today, the actual beginning of the Synod, our diocesan paper arrived and there was no front-page coverage of the Synod. There was a syndicated article on page 7. We were disappointed but buoyed by remembering that Jesus said to Peter “feed my sheep,” not count my sheep!
We also presented three Vigil Prayer experiences immediately before the Synod kick-off on Oct. 4. One was in a Taizé style prayer with candlelight and periods of silence. One was offered during the morning for those who don’t like to come out at night. The final one was Oct. 3, the actual eve of the Synod opening. All were “Spirit-focused” in song, environment, and prayers. All three were sparsely attended.
Having completed these efforts, we realize that the tone of ecclesial leadership in the United States has been less than enthusiastic about the Synod, with some exceptions. There doesn’t seem to be an overall “buzz” of interest and excitement like there was surrounding Vatican II.
But we remain hopeful, still trusting that the Holy Spirit is guiding us to help in building a Church for the third millennium!