We Are the People of God
In October 2023, Pope Francis convened the First Session of the Universal Stage of the Synod on Synodality. Bishops, religious, and lay men and women from around the world gathered to listen to one another and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit as expressed in the local, diocesan, and continental stages which preceded the Universal Stage. While delegates from around the world – including four from England and Wales – gathered in person in Rome, Clifton Diocese ran a series of webinars to invite our parishioners to discern alongside them.
A Synodal Church in Mission
At the beginning of October, Bishops, Priests, Religious and lay people (male and female) gathered around the Pope in Rome for the Synod of Bishops. This meeting was part of a three-year process which will continue until the same people meet again in Rome in October 2024. Their time together was graced by time spent in retreat with the Dominican Fr. Timothy Radcliffe in the three days before the Synod began. His talks can be found here: https://www.synod.va/en/highlights/retreat-for-the-participants-of-the-synodal-assembly.html All the documents of the whole Synod can be found here: https://www.lcsb.uk/synod.
Following the retreat, the participants gathered daily. Unlike previous Synods they did not sit in theatre style rows listening to long speeches. Rather they sat around tables of 10-11 people of mixed groups. The method for working was ‘Conversations in the Spirit’ each person having the opportunity to speak for no more than four minutes on the questions from the Instrumentum Laboris (available on this page). Reports speak of the challenge and the energy required to listen – really listen to one another. The groups were joined by expert facilitators given the role of ensuring that the method was followed, keep everyone to time and intervene when necessary. Two members of the group acted as secretary and rapporteur, to draft and deliver the fruits of the conversation to the rest of the assembly. As a diocese, we have been encouraging and using Conversation in the Spirit (CiS) since the start of the Synodal Journey. It is a way of working which is deeply effective because it allows everyone a voice. It is only when gathering the fruits of the conversation, does discussion become a part of the process. We call it ‘Listening with the Heart.’ It can be applied to any form of meeting when we are wanting to hear what others have to say.
The fruits of the Synod in Rome are now available for us to read. The forty pages offer us much food for thought. It has 81 proposals and around 20 calls for theological, canonical, and pastoral commissions to clarify and propose solutions.
We encourage everyone to read it and to reflect upon the content. Over the next few months, we will seek to explore what it offers and to continue the conversation in our own parishes and Diocese – ready to respond to how the Spirit is calling us.
Bishop John Arnold of Salford Diocese set the stage for our series by exploring the Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium. This document from the Second Vatican Council is key to helping us understand how and why we are called to be the People of God.
The following four webinars each focused on a different section of the Synodal Instrumentum Laboris and provide a wealth of insight into how we can journey together effectively, and how we can embody the synodal themes of communion, participation, and mission in our communities.
Dr Gemma Simmonds CJ, senior research fellow at the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology in Cambridge, gave the presentation For A Synodal Church – An Integral Experience on 4 October, discussing what means to be a synodal church. Dr Simmonds’ talk is based on Sections A1 (The Characteristic Signs of a Synodal Church) and A2 (A Way Forward for the Synodal Church: Conversation in the Spirit).
Dr Greg Ryan, an Assistant Professor of Ecclesiology and Receptive Ecumenism (CCS) for the Centre of Catholic Theology at the University of Durham, gave the presentation A Communion that Radiates on 10 October, reflecting on Section B1. His talk is a great resource for parishes or communities and an effective lead into the B1 worksheets in the Instrumentum Laboris.
Jenny Sinclair, the founder of Together for the Common Good (T4CG), gave the presentation Co-Responsibility in Mission – How Can we Better Share Gifts and Tasks in the Service of the Gospel? on 19 October, reflecting on Section B2. Her talk is an excellent resource for parishes looking for practical ideas to strengthen their communities, and is a great lead in to the B2 worksheets in the Instrumentum Laboris.
Fr Philip Inch, the Episcopal Vicar for Pastoral Development and parish priest of Holy Rosary, Aintree Village, gave the presentation Participation, Governance, and Authority in a Synodal Church on 23 October, reflecting on section B3. His talk is a great resource and lead in to the B3 worksheets in the Instrumentum Laboris.
The School for Synodality has launched a project that exists to help support the synodal conversion of the Church in England and Wales in our day to day practice. Through conversations, the development of resources, our webinars and our parish and innovation programmes we hope to enable an openness to the Holy Spirit in our Church through listening, sharing and discernment. The website is available here: School for Synodality
Clifton Diocese continued its synodal journey with three events facilitated by Danny Curtin. Two sessions were in person, at St John the Baptist in Trowbridge and St Nicholas of Tolentino in Bristol, and one was online. Danny spent time reflecting on what has come from the synodal process so far, highlighting in particular Bishop Declan’s comments on Clifton Diocese’s own synodal document, and on the national reflection document. Our Synodal journey is grounded in prayer, and in the desire to discern the will of the Spirit, and Danny reminded us that this prayerful centre is what distinguishes a synodal meeting from a business meeting. Just because synodal meetings are not business meetings does not mean that no action follows from them. In the facilitation sessions, Danny provided some tools to help parishes concretise the hopes that grow in synodal listening and meetings. These are the 8 Archetypes of Engagement and the six-step Cycle of Engagement.
Wherever you, and your parish, are in the synodal journey, these tools can help build up your community. A simple synodal step anyone can take this advent is to reflect on the 8 Archetypes of Engagement. Which one sounds most like you? Are there any that you don’t like, and push you away? Which of the archetypes do you see in the people around you? Ponder these questions as Advent progresses. If someone invites you to join in something, use the archetypes to see if you can engage where you feel called. “I’m happy to help set up the chairs or clean the space [Help Archetype], but I don’t want to plan the event [Strategy Archetype]” Or if you’re hoping to get involved, reach out to others in your parish. “I have some ideas I’d like to chat about [Generative Archetype]” or “I like what this group does. Could I join and help out?” [Support Archetype]
But, as Danny, Bishop Declan, and Pope Francis remind us, prayer is at the heart of our synodal journey. Prayer keeps us connected with the Holy Spirit, and allows the Lord to guide us. So in the words of St Paul, “Pray Constantly!” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
Enlarge the Space of your Tent – an opportunity to respond to the Continental working document of the Synod – 15 December 2022
To support this process and to help you to respond, we held an online session to allow you to understand the content of the document and to explain to you the three questions to which we are being asked to respond. Fr Jan Nowotnik, Director of Mission and National Ecumenical Officer at Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, facilitated the session for us and Bishop Declan started off the presentation with a message.
The presentation can be viewed below.
Prayer for the Synod
The documents below are the Delegates’ Guide to Synodal Pathway. They are for clergy, parish representatives and those organising the synodal pathway. Videos for the information day can be found below.
In collaboration with the University of Newcastle in Australia and the Catholic Women’s Council, Catholic Women Speak is conducting an online survey—available in six languages—to gather feedback from women around the world for the Synod:
Bishop Declan welcome’s the Synod process
The next two years in the life of the Church
what exactly is synodality and what does it mean for Catholics in England and Wales? Fr Chris Thomas, General Secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, and Father Jan Nowotnik, Director of Mission, discuss the process and explain this invitation to communion, participation and mission.
Bishop Declan introduces the information day
Fr Jan Nowotnik, Director of Mission and National Ecumenical Officer at Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Sarah Adams, Adult education and evangelisation department
Synod Listening Conversation presentation 12-01-2022