We are very excited to welcome our third guest blogger, PVP Leaderhip Team member Kari Campbell.
Kari is a full time working wife and mother of five. She has a background in adult education, visual communication, is an EQi coach, and volunteers with her parishes religious education program. In the midst of this season of life, the phrase that guides her most is "be the light" (Matthew 5:16), and "you cannot be a wandering generality, you must be a meaningful specific" (Zig Ziglar).
As I lay awake in bed at 5AM, trying to go back to sleep, my mind automatically begins to ponder and dredge up all of those wonderful little memories of recent days – things that went well and things that did not go so well. But mostly I ponder instances where I failed miserably and questions of what exactly was I trying to do anyway. I like to call this time my “5AM Unwanted Reflections”. I try to hide from them and get back to sleep for that last hour before everyone starts to wake up and the day begins, but this never works.
This morning my “Unwanted Reflections” brought up a topic that I had talked about yesterday with a colleague - authority and synodality in the church. What exactly does this mean? More importantly, what does this look like? Well if you are waiting on pins and
needles for a definitive answer, I’m sorry, I don’t think there truly is any single answer that can lay this out in detail; however, I do feel compelled to write on possible overarching themes that can be considered. So here goes…possible themes that can inform this much-needed conversation in the Church:
First, let’s look at synodality. Synodality, as we understand it, is our journey together to discern the will of the Holy Spirit and move forward in the name of Christ. Authority, on the other hand, is defined by Webster’s Dictionary (in part) to mean “power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior; or, a person in command”. At first it might seem that these two words - synodality and authority - do not go together; but, if we look closer and really reflect on them, I believe they are connected. And as I continued to muse, I realized I believe that in order to have a productive and thriving environment in the Church, both are needed.
Now, my parish is a small one. We are very friendly and welcoming - at least that is what I perceive, since we have people traveling from no fewer than three different counties to attend this parish, specifically. But we also are not very well noticed within our Diocese. We do not stand out in any exceedingly good or bad way, and we focus on tending to our community through our various ministries. We could be considered a “fringe” parish – the only Catholic church in the county, tucked away in the woods, with a small (but growing!) congregation. I can’t say whether we are acutely aware of our own synodality or not, but I do believe that we strive to move forward in it by default. We walk together in what we try to accomplish and in our interactions both inside and outside of the church. Yet, what I have noticed is that even in our walk to fulfill our mission and be more Christ-like, there is a very strong need for authority.
Now, let me be clear, I do not mean authority in that people need a micro-manager and someone who is all about the title and the power (cue He-Man’s iconic transformation); but rather, someone with the authority to set forth - and maintain - a structure and set of guidelines so that a group can focus and function. Sure there will be a bit of chaos here and there – I mean, let’s be real, sometimes the Holy Spirit works through chaos to bring out some truly brilliant ideas – but it should never feel like a free-for-all. What I see people need is to know what will happen, how and when and who is in charge. They need the gifts of authority used in service to the mission.
But Kari, what about including everyone? Great point!! So, just because you (or someone) are in a position of authority does not mean that others are not included. A smart use of authority means shared understanding of the work, its purpose, and the means by which it will be done. A smart use of authority delegates responsibility, shares decision-making, and asks all involved to contribute according to their gifts. Much like other organizations or groups – or even look at work environments – people who can set and maintain the structure, but delegate/confer authority as needed are often successful. I am talking about a smart distribution of power which depends greatly on trust, accountability, and a willingness to collaborate and engage in team work. And aren’t those characteristics of a synodal parish?Isn’t that what synodality is?
But you know what? It’s hard. I’m not talking “oo this is a tad difficult” either. I’m talking this will require you to have empathy, emotional intelligence, and a willingness to admit mistakes and work to mitigate their consequences. It will require an openness to accept that someone else’s ideas might be better than yours, being willing to work within those guidelines that the person in authority (be it the Pastor, committee head, or others assigned a special project or event) has set, and a willingness to compromise (we all know it sucks to have to give a little to get a little, but sometimes it is what is needed). In short, it is being able to be more Christ-like, which is hard (and by the way, no one has mastered it — so have a little grace and patience with yourself and others).
One other thing, while we are on the topic of authority, delegation, and trust. Sometimes, it is necessary to help develop these qualities both across and up. What does this mean?
Across means across your ministry or between the ministries. Help each other be better! The simple question of “what can I do for you?” or “How can I help?” will do wonders to show someone that you care (and quite possibly even speak their love language - especially if it’s Service). This will help exercise your empathy muscle - which is supremely important in understanding others and seeing things from an alternate perspective.
When you develop up, that means it is sometimes necessary to help those above you (hierarchically) to develop. Perhaps you have a newly/recently ordained priest, or they have come in from a small church to a larger church, or their skill/passion is different than that one crucially needed in your parish – help them. This seems pretty obvious, but stop and think…. How often have you done this? And, if you have, ponder these questions: Am I helping them to understand and gain that skill so that they can lead us? Or, am I doing the work for them and enabling a kind of lazy approach?. When you are developing up, it is wise to consider that the leader may already have the skills, but not know how to engage with the existing groups to get any traction. You can help by developing up. How, you may be wondering. Here’s one approach. Instread of saying “Today I am going to teach you how to interact with XX ministry today” , exercise that empathy and awareness and casually mention “I noticed that you are not getting much traction with xx, have you tried (state your suggestion)”. In this way, you offer your insight with gentle kindness, for the good of the parish. This too is an element of synodality: speaking truth in love for the good of the Church.
Now, I could go on for hours about communication, leadership at various levels, and moving forward together to bring Christ’s light to the world, but I don’t think readers are looking for something quite that long. So may I leave you with a thought and a challenge? The thought is this: synodality needs the smart use of authority. They are connected to each other.
Andhere is my challenge to you: As you look around and implement a #synodjourney at the parish level - look at the authority that would be required as part of that synodality. Make sure that you are approaching it with an open mind and heart, and look for - or cultivate- those leaders who are more “Mother Teresa” and less “He-Man”. Power and authority are in many places, but what matters is what you do with that power. Reflect on the many areas and interactions, pray for guidance - and open your ears to hear the answer (even if it is not one you necessarily like). If you aren’t sure where to start with your reflection and approach, check out the Resources page here at the Pentecost Vigil Project. Many of our resources can be used to start that synod process within your parish - and even if you are already on that path, a few more tools in your toolkit never hurt!
Photo courtesy of Unsplash/Uday Mittal