Q: Archbishop J, how did we arrive at the overarching theme for the Archdiocese?
Synodality is about a people walking together, discerning the voice of God in and through all their human interactions. The discernment allows them to chart a direction towards Christ, the ultimate end of the journey.
What is important is the quality of the listening which brings deeper participation which leads to a more profound communion and ultimately to mission. We now have a theme for the next two years: Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue. It is exciting.
Each parish and ecclesial community had an opportunity to listen and share their experience of being a synodal Church. These listening sessions resulted in 77 synod syntheses for the Archdiocese. Then the team had the very difficult and painstaking task of bringing the 77 documents into one archdiocesan synthesis. This too is a discernment process that requires much focus and prayer.
We sent the individual syntheses and the archdiocesan synthesis to each parish and ecclesial community. They were asked to prayerfully read both documents. We hosted a morning where the leaders gathered online and went through the archdiocesan synthesis. It was a revealing process.
For many, it was difficult. It certainly required reading past the negatives to seeing the desire for a much better, more inclusive Church.
The priests gathered in Mayaro to learn how to lead a synodal church. Then they were asked to present the parish synthesis to their parish, inviting parishioners to engage with the whole document. So, at the level of parish and communities, the People of God were able to have conversations about their document, and the way forward.
We cautioned about jumping into action too quickly. We asked people to stay with the pain and grief; and learn to mourn the pain before running to action.
Phase one of the discernment
The archdiocesan synthesis has seven areas that emerged as trending themes across many of the consultations. These themes highlight the significant areas that we need to focus on if we are to become a synodal Church.
We sent these themes out to all parishes, commissions, and ecclesial communities, with a brief description, asking them to choose one, prayerfully, as the overarching theme for 2023–2024. The result was surprising to many of us.
Youth engagement was trending when we closed off the online portal, in preparation for our archdiocesan assembly on November 19.
The areas (in random order):
After these consultations, I engaged a group of young adults. I listened to their experience of being engaged by the Church and realised it was a very mixed bag. There was a lot of pain and great joy. If this was the major theme for the Church, it would call us all to conversion.
The second theme, faith formation was a much easier one, but it needed some direction since it is so broad a theme. But the Holy Spirit needed to lead us to the next phase of discernment where we become holy indifferent to all the themes as we seek God’s will.
Phase two of the discernment
During the archdiocesan assembly, November 19, eight persons from each parish, and ecclesial community sat at round tables. We began with praise and worship and a dramatic rendition of Ezekiel 37:1–10.
The haunting question was, “Can these bones live?” This reached to the depths of the assembly and animated a deeper discussion. There was hope, participation and engagement. The team responsible for the assembly worked hard and long to find the right process to facilitate the discernment.
After a presentation of the synthesis with the seven themes, we asked the tables three questions. After each table answered the questions, we listened to feedback from five. This crystallised the conversation and the direction in which the Holy Spirit was leading the assembly.
1) Having heard and prayed through the diocesan synthesis:
2) Having heard and prayed with the diocesan synthesis:
3) Based on the conversations you have had and what emerges from the previous two questions, which ONE of the seven themes identified in the synthesis best closes the gap between where we are now and the synodal Church we are dreaming of?
A different theme led at the tables: Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue—with Faith Formation and Youth Engagement trailing behind.
The assembly was then instructed to ask prayerfully for God’s guidance. The tables were asked again to consult and select one theme.
Many more pivoted to Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue. Then it was asked that someone who believed strongly in another theme to speak. One person went to the microphone and pitched for Faith Formation, saying it was the foundation of everything.
The assembly agreed with this premise. The question was then: If the assembly agreed on Community Building as the theme, could we not also see faith formation as essential—the foundation for Christian community? There was consensus; most people were willing to agree to the one theme: Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue.
In a discernment process there are several moments. First, we take a perspective and advocate for it. Second, a theme emerges. We are all then invited to holy indifference. Asking for knowledge of God’s will requires backing away from our wilfulness.
Third, a theme is chosen. We all need to get behind the theme, as if it were our first choice.
The major theme Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue demands a strong focus on Hospitality, review of our style of Governance and attention to Leadership.
We must Strengthen Youth Engagement. We will need to Improve Technology and Communication in church. We will have to lay the foundations of a solid Faith Formation. All will cause us consciously to consider how we Celebrate and Worship and dramatically impact it.
By putting Building Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue at the centre, we have an overarching theme that will draw the other themes into a unified whole.
At the end of the assembly two women came to me arguing for faith formation. I told them you do not employ an architect to design foundations. You design the house and then assess what foundations you need. You do not set out to design foundations. Thanks to the team that made this possible.
The Church is God’s family. We need to learn the art and skill of discernment to aid our decision-making.
Continue praying for the synod process, ask God to show you what concrete step you might take to Build Community, Inclusivity and Dialogue.