synod for the archdiocese of winnipeg

The Archdiocese of Winnipeg is embarking on a synod journey. Archbishop Richard Gagnon made the formal announcement in a letter read from all pulpits and available online.

Pope Francis has called for a more synodal church,

“a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”

Synodality, according to Francis, is

“walking together — laity, pastors, the bishop of Rome.” It is “an easy concept to express in words, but is not so easy to put into practice.”

synods a step towards a more inclusive church

For those of us who yearn for more inclusive leadership in our church, synods could offer a concrete strategy for allowing all voices to be heard. The recent Synods on the Family made an attempt to open the dialogue to the greater church, albeit a clumsy attempt at times. Surveys were sent, but difficulties were understandable considering the work required to accommodate the sheer numbers, languages and cultures inherent in the world wide church.

Local synods can provide the necessary foundation for future world synods. When  dialogue is organically present in local churches, bishops will be better equipped  to represent those they serve at national and international meetings and synods

Diocesan synods can also provide a concrete response to the lack of personal involvement in our church today.  Much needed personal investment in the future of our church, not just obligatory attendance, can be achieved when those in the grass roots participate actively in ideas and decision making.

But, true and active participation must come with a sense of empowerment and this is often missing in the official language and tone of the church concerning the role of lay persons in councils and synods.

role of laity – consultants or active participants?

Canon law, which is clearly referenced in the Archbishop’s letter, stresses the consultative-only role of lay women and men. The bishop, in his “ministry of governance of the local church”, calls the synod, oversees the synod, and decides the eventual outcome of the synod.

This is the first diocesan synod in Winnipeg, and a learning curve is inevitable. On the other hand, parish or pastoral councils have been around for decades and can offer some valuable lessons.

Parish or pastoral councils, according to Canon Law, are also consultative bodies. But, the line between consultation only and effective, collaborative decision making can move drastically depending on the priest.

Some priests know that the parish community is not there to serve them. These priests seek to build community together with the people they are called to serve. Dialogue and collaborative decision making ensure that leadership is shared.

Other priests are quick to remind the faithful that the priest is in charge.  Parish councils, in these circumstances, often consist of a core group of parish faithful who are more than willing to rubber stamp anything that Father requests. In some cases, pastors have even disbanded parish councils. A consultative body, after all, exists only at the pleasure of the those in charge.

If we are to be truly “walking together” in the synodal process, than it is time to let go of our hierarchical thinking. It is time for women and men to be given an active role in the governance of the church, not merely as consultants. A diocesan synod can do this, despite Canon law directives, if it is truly inclusive, listens deeply, ponders prayerfully, and responds effectively to the dialogues that will take place.

who will participate?

Which brings us to the question of who will participate in this diocesan synod. The first step of the synod will be to encourage as broad a dialogue as possible on the local level. The onus will be on us all to attend and actively participate in any discussions that take place close to home.

The next stage will be the formal synod process. Who will participate in this stage? Will there be a diversity of voices, representing not only the many interests in our church but also those on the fringes? What will be the balance between ordained and lay among the synod members? Will lay women and men be given the right to vote on any decisions made, or will they have only observer status as in the Synods in Rome?

The simple call for a synod brings hope for a more inclusive church, a hope for greater dialogue. Yes, it is easy to express in words, but much harder to put into practice. But, the first step has been taken. And, this is a good thing.

Next post…..diocesan unity or uniformity?


power of words out of context

Greetings, friends! I’m not going to waste time with more feeble excuses for blog absenteeism. You’ve heard them all. I’m just going to jump back in…

From today’s liturgical readings;

Jer. 18:18-20.
The people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem said, “Come, let us contrive a plot against Jeremiah. It will not mean the loss of instruction from the priests, nor of counsel from the wise, nor of messages from the prophets. And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word.” …

The lectio divina form of prayer seeks a word or phrase that speaks to you, at this moment and place in time. Today, I pondered on these words;

And so, let us destroy him by his own tongue; let us carefully note his every word

In lectio divina words are often taken out of context. They become a springboard for mulling, meditating, praying, and discerning right action. This can be a good thing. A very good thing. But, how often do we take words out of context in order to destroy the character of others?

Taking words out of context and splattering them across news headlines and social media has become the preferred style of journalists, commentators, and bloggers. Others pick up on the energy in discussion boards, giving the words a larger life than intended or a distorted life far removed from the original meaning.

I’m guilty of this. I love to pounce on the latest stupid remark from a person on my “do not like” list whether a political candidate, celebrity, government or church leader. My ears become attuned to the words that fuel my dislike and affirm my righteous anger. I intentionally search them out, and gleefully share them with like-minded souls.

I’ve used this strategy to write many a blog post and column. Mea culpa.

Yet, there are times when words are so stupid that they make context irrelevant. Or, they are repeated so many times by the person that they become fair game for a good rant or a challenging debate. When we realize that the words accurately reflect the person speaking them and these words demean or promote hatred then it is our duty to challenge them.

As with many things in life, it boils down to discernment. And, discernment cannot be rushed. It requires careful pondering and judging before acting. This is especially challenging with instant communications.

For myself, I’m going to try and resist the temptation to pounce on the “headline wagon of the day”. It’s freeing, actually. One of the things that I was finding most stressful with my writing was trying to keep on top of all the issues as they happened. I admire the quick-witted writers who can pound out a thoughtful, meaningful commentary within hours or minutes of an event. I’m not one of them.


papal intention for november – dialogue!

Source: Pope’s general prayer intention for November is for dialogue (Vatican Radio)

Pope Francis wants us to pray for dialogue. This prayer intention, for the month of November, is timely and welcomed (at least by this blogger!) It comes as no surprise that dialogue is on the pope’s mind after the hard work – and sometimes craziness – of the October synod. Francis has a vision for a truly synodal church,

“a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing. It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”

Listening is at the heart of dialogue. Constantly interrupting, or shouting down a speaker is not only rude. It shows an inability or lack of desire to listen to what the person is trying to say. The same is true for discussion board commenters who pull words out of context to attack a writer, while ignoring the main idea of an article.

Whether in speech or in writing, it takes more than a few words to express an idea. Listening is giving an other the sacred space to fully express themselves before engaging in a deeper discussion on the idea.

From the Vatican Radio article,

At a meeting in Brazil, Pope Francis said: “When leaders in various fields ask me for advice, my response is always the same: dialogue, dialogue, dialogue.” He said, “It is the only way for individuals, families, and societies to grow along with the culture of encounter, a culture in which all have something good to give and all can receive something good in return.”

The goal of dialogue is not to reach a false sense of consensus by letting go of our beliefs. The article continues,

Dialogue does not mean denying objective truth, but rather respecting the dignity of the other person “in a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister to be welcomed and embraced.”

We may not have a seat at the table of global discussions, but we sit at many tables in our daily lives. These everyday tables offer the same challenges of diverse views and different personalities. Whether it is with family, friends, workers, teachers, students, or faith communities, difficult discussions can be seen as a call to dialogue. To listen deeply before speaking.

For greater dialogue in our church and in our world….We pray….