Canon Kevin Golden brings us this precis from Bishop Brian McGee of Argyll and the Isles…
The start of the Synod was preceded by two prayer events: an Ecumenical Prayer Vigil followed by a three day Retreat. This reminded us that the Synod should be primarily a spiritual experience when we discern together the Spirit’s guidance. As well as bonding with fellow delegates from across the globe we were also introduced to the Spiritual Conversation which would be the principle method of discernment within the small groups.
As the synod began and progresses, Synod veterans from previous Synods have spoken of how this one is different. Certainly the retreat set an atmosphere of prayer and friendship which has continued. In the Assembly Hall we sit in small circles, including the Holy Father, rather than in long rows, which encourages genuine dialogue .
Our work is a mixture of personal prayer and reflection, small group discussion and General Assembly when all 400 or so participants interact together. There are 37 small groups organised by language and specific topics. There are 4 topics, and after each section is completed, entirely new groups are created which maximises our opportunities for encounters with Catholics from across the world.
My small group this week consisted of 11 members plus a facilitator. A secretary had been appointed and a presenter elected. We were 8 bishops, 1 priest, 1 female religious and 1 lay female with the facilitator also female religious. We came from 4 continents. The presence of non-bishops enriched our discussion. Our dialogue was open, honest, increasingly deep and rooted in prayer. It bodes well for the rest of the synod.
For myself one of the most uplifting elements of the Synod has been the quality of discussion in the Small Groups, principally because we are engaging the Spiritual Conversation method.
Once allocated a topic, we prepare in advance by personal prayer, before writing a four minute presentation. When the Group meets, our sharing takes places over three phases which are each preceded by silent prayer.
Firstly, each person in turn delivers their presentation while the rest listen in silence without responding, although notes are taken.
Secondly, each member, in turn, sums up what they heard from the entire group, especially focusing on what “burnt in their heart”, both that which pleased or disturbed them. Thirdly, open discussion follows. Then the secretary and presenter draft a tentative statement, and, after discussion, adaptation and approval it is read to the General Assembly.
After every Group’s statement is read out, free interventions from across the Assembly are permitted. After every 4 interventions there is a 3 minute pause for silent prayer. Finally, the Small Groups discuss what they have heard from across the Assembly and decide if they wish to accordingly adapt their own statement. This usually happens. The point is not to necessarily reach complete consensus but rather to agree what the significant points were, even if they are divergent. The final document cannot be longer than 2 pages and once complete is then submitted to the theologians for synthesis with those from the other Small Groups with the same topic.
It seems complicated, but the facilitators keep us right. I have been struck by the prayerful, respectful and open dialogue even during potentially contentious topics. Something to try in our parishes, dioceses and Bishops’ Conference?
The stained glass window depicting the Holy Spirit shines beautifully in St Peter’s Basilica. The Holy Spirit’s essential role has dominated the Synod too. Pope Francis has constantly insisted that the Holy Spirit must be the Synod’s protagonist. This is the focus of our communal prayer and our discussions (Conversations in the Spirit).
Before I came to Rome, I was saddened by predictions that there would be much division and conflict due to opposing views. I never thought that this could be the correct approach. The Synod is not about personal (or communal) preferences or agendas but seeking the Spirit’s guidance. This has been my consistent desire, prayed for regularly each day. Interestingly I’m not the only person who thinks like that. During the Retreat, I went to Confession and the priest gave me an unusual penance: to be open to the Holy Spirit – until at least the end of the Synod!
The Church is of divine origin and God knows what the Church needs more than we do. Humility and listening are key for discernment. This is why since the 7th Century Synods have prayed: Adsumus Sancte Spiritus – We stand before You, Holy Spirit.
The above is synthesized by Canon Kevin Golden from Bishop Brian’s reports on the Facebook page of the Diocese of Argyll and the Isles. Please share this as widely as possible.