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Formation, Synodality and Servant Leadership

On Labour Day, June 19, the Archdiocese hosted a leadership conference aimed at exploring formation and transformative leadership within the Church. Speakers included Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon and Father Peter McIsaac SJ, who is the Director of Synodal Transformation for the Archdiocese.

In an interview on Altos ahead of the conference, Fr McIsaac explained, “The Leadership Conference is an important element of a much broader process in the Archdiocese. It’s focused on formation.”

He described his primary role as being focused on “spiritual formation” and said the conference provides an opportunity “to gather… 600 people and get them to participate in a Conversation in the Spirit, to engage in a conversation about what is needed at the parish level” in areas like theological formation and human formation.

The conference aims to model the leadership approach demonstrated by Pope Francis, which Fr McIsaac characterised as being “in great continuity with all of his predecessors” since the Second Vatican Council. That council had emphasised the full and active participation of all of the baptised.

He said the Church over the years, has been trying to find ways to get people more involved in liturgy, ministries, and in community, “and now we’re looking at the structures of decision-making.”

He said Pope Francis invites Church leadership “to be much more discerning. Where do we find the Spirit in the community? And how does the leader respond to the pastoral need?”

Fr McIsaac noted, “We have asked priests and clergy and Lay people at times to exercise pastoral leadership. In the exercise of pastoral leadership, there are different styles.”

Fr McIsaac praised the Pope’s “rootsy way about him” and his being “very gentle…very compassionate…very pastoral,” calling it “a helpful model for us” aligned with concepts like “servant leadership” and “missionary discipleship.”


Spiritual formation at the Seminary

On the formation of seminarians, Fr McIsaac believed it to be “balanced”.  He stated the programme provides “very good spiritual formation” to help seminarians develop “an intimate relationship with God” and understand themselves “in relationship, both to God as well as to the people of God.”

He added that the focus is on teaching them and giving them the skills to be good pastoral leaders who listen, discern, and are engaged in their ministries in a very compassionate way.

Fr McIsaac, who is currently living at the Seminary, expressed being “most impressed by the guys that are coming through and by the leadership” at the Seminary and Archbishop Gordon.

Addressing parish leadership, he acknowledged there can sometimes be a perception that “the words and the decision of the parish priests are often viewed as infallible.” However, he suggested the aim should be for pastoral leaders to be “sensitive to the Spirit that moves, sometimes in unexpected ways, within unexpected people” and to “get people to participate in the processes of decision making.”

Fr McIsaac argued that the Church should strive to be “a model for society” through its leadership, providing “examples and models of leadership which are more humane, more respectful of the dignity of every person.”

He recognised that the Church has had to face its own “weaknesses and sinfulness” which has been made public. But he said this makes clear the need for healing and reconciliation, in our churches as well as its relationships with society.

He noted that many members have been wounded by the past and by the styles of leadership in the Church and that this is something they have been examining. “I think Pope Francis has provided enormously effective examples of the way in which he humbles himself to bring about reconciliation and healing in our Church.”

The leadership conference included skits highlighting church dynamics, a panel discussion, and a Conversation in the Spirit examining dimensions of Church life and revitalising ministries.

Fr McIsaac hopes it will lead to “some concrete formative programmes, but also generally, just a greater appreciation of our identity and mission as Church.”


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