The Synod and collaborative ministry

Synod and collaboration

With the local Synodal process completed, we now have to consider how this will affect our ongoing relationship with God and with each other and the fact that the church may be forever different from now on.

Not surprisingly, the issue of the laity was prominent under several headings. These included leadership, formation and even ordination.

Conversely, there was overt and covert criticism of the clergy and the institutions of the church.

It is clear that for some clergy, this was very hurtful and was not tempered by much empathy for the difficult position in which they have been placed.

While the abuse scandal did not seem to be prominent in the discernment, clericalism certainly was.

Often clericalism was talked about in the presence of priests who are very pastoral and could not be accused of such behaviour.

In addition, most participants did not acknowledge the role the laity has played in perpetuating clericalism; their passivity, lack of involvement with the running of their parishes or their blind deference to their parish priest, expecting him to make all the decisions and take all the responsibility.

Little was mentioned of the fact that priests may be

  • lonely,
  • living in unsuitable presbyteries,
  • bogged down with administrative duties,
  • on 24-hour call and
  • concerned about the fact that they may be called on to take on another parish or extra sacramental duties.

Coupled with that, they may be concerned about the adaptation and integration of international priests coming to New Zealand, as well as constantly being aware of the dwindling congregations and the lack of young parishioners.

There seemed to be a difficulty in separating criticisms of the institutional, hierarchical and clerical church from our personal experience with priests.

Maybe this has been a downside of the synodal process, where we have been given the chance and indeed encouraged to contribute, yet have not followed a true discernment process, choosing rather to get carried away with the opportunity to air our grievances.

Most attendees at the synod meetings would already likely be very involved in various ministries or administrative tasks in their parishes.

That has been my own experience and one that has given me great opportunities to practice my faith and to use some of my skills.

Sometimes forgotten is the aspect of leadership and the difficulties it entails.

It is easy to make use of one’s natural qualities but also easy to criticise – both our fellow parishioners that we feel are not contributing or our priests, whose style we may not like.

We may have forgotten

  • the power of positive feedback;
  • the importance of thanking those who care for us; the chance to ask how we can help;
  • the objective assessment of the difficulties that our parish may present for the parish priest;
  • their personal circumstances that may impinge on their ability to serve.

In short, are we following the commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves, to show empathy and care? Particularly in relation to our priests.

It is important to reflect on this as we prepare to have increased roles within the church. If we, too, are to become leaders, we can learn from those who have gone before us. We can see what was successful and where the difficulties lay. We can understand the adaptations that have had to be made as the church seeks to be relevant in the modern world.

The rise of the laity, often accompanied by increased theological education and the desire to be more involved in the running of the Church, brings with it the concept of both rights and responsibilities.

The rights aspect takes us back to Vatican II and the recognition of the people of God, who are all the baptised.

This council was the first to promote the laity and to look for a greater role for them in the Church.

As for responsibilities, we will have to learn about leadership, specifically collaborative ministry, and how we will conduct ourselves. In particular, we may need to appreciate the importance of service to others.

My own background in mental health has offered me a good model.

For over forty years, I have worked in multidisciplinary teams.

In the health setting, that meant that all team members contributed their particular skills and training, all the while keeping the patient at the centre and being aware that they must work as a team for the benefit of that person.

Tasks were shared out; each was aware of the others’ personal strengths and roles and kept all the treatment plans under review.

Team members had the opportunity to extend their skills, and recognition was given to those who had a particular training that could be utilised for the good of the patient.

Often, we had to think outside the square and utilise other services that seemed more appropriate.

There was no place for ‘going it alone’ or disrespecting the opinions of others. On occasions, someone would have to take responsibility for difficult decisions, but these would be discussed in the group and hopefully understood and supported by all.

Would we be able to say that most parishes are run like this?

Not surprisingly, the answer is probably ‘no’.

This should not be seen as a criticism but as an indication that we will have to look ahead, acknowledging that things will be run in a different way in the future.

We need to draw on some of the principles of Ignatian Spirituality – looking for the good in others; being flexible; acknowledging that for some, the process will be difficult and that we, and they, will have to adapt; always considering our choices through the lens of discernment and remembering the risks of a desire for pride, honour, or recognition.

We have a model of servant leadership in Pope Francis, who is an expert on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, and well aware of the risks that leadership can pose.

Francis is one who has brought clericalism to our attention but would also recommend that we look ahead with hope.

Change is often difficult, but without it, institutions may die.

The Church is interesting in this respect – we often concentrate on the continuity of tradition and the links with the past.

We sometimes talk of the unbroken chain, through the Church, from Peter to the present.

We use symbols that have survived centuries. On the other hand, we are told that the Church is ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ – the church must always be reformed.

The theologian, Hans Küng, influenced by the Second Vatican Council, used this term extensively, drawing particularly on Lumen Gentium (The Dogmatic Constitution on the Church), which reminds us that the Church must always follow the way of penance and renewal.

And in March of this year, there was a conference in Slovakia entitled ‘Pope Francis, Synodality and Ecclesia semper reformanda’. It referred to the Pope’s belief that synodality is central to the church’s renewal.

Many people remarked that the opportunity to participate in the synodal process was exciting, a chance to take an active part in the future mission of the church -to be part of semper reformanda.

Hopefully, most, if not all, of the gathered ideas were positive and future-oriented.

Now the challenge is to work on how we can implement these ideas, learning from the past, being grateful for those who have led the way, learning new skills and above all, being caring in our collaborative approach.

  • Bridget Taumoepeau is a “Launch Out” Mentor
  • First published in Launch Out Letters
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