Suffolk: the synodal journey of a parish
Jane Crone is from Clare Priory Parish in Suffolk. She is part of the parish synod team, along with two other lay people and Fr. Gladson Dabre OSA. She writes:
In October 2021, Pope Francis invited the 1.37 billion Catholics of the world to participate in a synod on the theme “For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission”. The World Synod of Bishops meets in Rome approximately every two years and also organizes extraordinary Synods, such as those for youth, the family and the Amazon. But it is another type of Synod, it is a call to rediscover our roots and the deeply synodal nature of the Church. What does this mean and how do we respond to it?
The invitation is not just for a few, it is for all of us: lay people, religious, young, old, daily Mass attenders, disenchanted fallen Catholics, people from other religious traditions and without belief. We are all invited to get involved. The synod and the practice of the synodal process call us, the Church, to rediscover its nature as a pilgrim and missionary people led by the Holy Spirit. It calls us to listen to one another, to discern together in a “culture of encounter”.
The process may have been started by Pope Francis in Rome and by bishops in their own cathedrals, but it is not something that starts at the top of a pyramid and trickles down to parishes below. Instead, the pyramid was knocked down. The synod begins in the parishes, at the base, by consulting all the people of God and ends at the tip of the pyramid with a synod of bishops. How do we make the most of this exciting but daunting opportunity that is “a gift and a task” of working in our parish communities? Anyone involved in parish life knows that organizing meetings is not easy at the best of times – COVID has made things much more complicated. Much has been written about the theology behind the synod. Little has been written about how this works in practice, here are some thoughts from a parish in Suffolk, very large geographically, small to medium in terms of Mass attendance.
Each Catholic parish is unique and each synod journey will be unique. When we get in a car or on a train we may think that we are in control of the route we have planned, but we all know that trains can be delayed, a car can stop because of works or traffic jams . A journey led by the Holy Spirit who “blows where He wills” is bound to be even more unpredictable. Our faith will be tested, we will have to be ready for the new, the unexpected, the surprising, but at the same time this journey will be full of joy and hope. During his homily on the feast of Epiphany, Pope Francis linked the synodal journey to that of the Magi, who return “by another way” (Mt 2:12). They push us to take new paths. Here we see the creativity of the Spirit always bringing forth new things. This is also one of the tasks of the Synod that we are currently undertaking: to walk together and listen to one another, so that the Spirit can suggest to us new ways and paths to bring the Gospel to the hearts of those who are distant, indifferent or without hope, but continue to seek what the Magi found: “great joy” (Mt 2:10). You always have to move forward.
In our parish, a group of three lay people and the parish priest began meeting in October to pray, listen and discern how “one gift and one task” can work in our community. Drawing on diocesan resources, as well as the vade mecum, we reflected on how the synodal journey could work for us. We presented the Synod during convocations at the end of Mass at the start of Advent and made sure to be available at the back of the church afterwards to talk about it. The parish bulletin contained weekly reflections on the synod during Advent, linking it to the Gospel readings of the week and the theological virtues represented by the Advent candle of the week, Hope, Love, Joy and Peace.
An informal conversation after Mass seemed to encourage people to get involved in the synod and to listen to teach the thoughts of others. We responded to this by setting up a “synod corner” next to the church door and baptismal font. It has become a place of informal listening and discernment – issues the diocese has asked us to consider are posted on the wall and we distribute printed copies for people to take home and reflect on. These informal exchanges gave rise to face-to-face meetings before and after Mass. Beginning with a time of reflection based on synodal prayer, the biblical themes on which we are invited to meditate and synodal prayer, they provide an opportunity for a personal exchange in silent reflection followed by an opportunity to listen to others. We put the questions on the wall near the church door on large sheets of paper after mass so others can add their thoughts, we make sure we are standing at the back of the church to listen . We heard stories of faith and community, of disappointment and frustration, and some exciting suggestions for our future parish journey.
Not all of our ideas are working, the suggestion of a Zoom meeting was not taken up and therefore shelved, we are still working on how best to involve young people and those confined to their homes. We have noticed that some people do not want to get involved and do not push them to change their minds.
The diocese has an online form for individuals to complete and we will also be able to submit a parish summary, as the vademeucum says:
‘a summary should be written each time there is a gathering in the diocese to answer questions…the summary is an act of discernment in choosing and writing what will contribute to the next stage of the synodal process , by being sent to the diocese…the synthesis not only reports common tendencies and points of convergence, but also highlights the points which strike a chord, inspire an original point of view or open a new horizon…. Something of the experience of the local gathering should be passed on in the feedback: the attitudes of the participants, and the joys and challenges of engaging in discernment together.
More importantly, although the Synod logo says 2021-2023, this is just the beginning. The church of the third millennium will be a synodal church – the picture on the logo explains it better than any word – a picture of the diverse peoples of God walking together under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I’m sure I’m not the only person wondering how other parishes are experiencing the synod process, I hope Catholic news channels can find a way to share our stories in their own synod corners as I have shared mine. Come Holy Spirit Come renew the face of the earth!
Parish of the Priory of Claire: https://clarepriory.org.uk/parish.html
Editor’s note: This evening we have set up a new section on ICN bringing together all the articles on Synode2022 (green box on the right of the home page)
Keywords: Synod 2022, Synod, Synodal Church, Synod of the Vatican, Preparatory Document for the Synod, Vade-mecum, Jane Crone, Priory of Clare, Suffolk, Father Gladson Dabre OSA
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