Local synods consult the laiety, revitalize church, seek “to change the archdiocese’s DNA”

November 19, 2016

Multiple dioceses are convening the first synods they have had in 40 or 50 years, providing models the rest of us can learn from!  At the bottom of this piece or as a link also see: Moving Into the Future Through a Parish Synod, drafted by J. Schlaeffer.

In the lead up to the global synod on the family, the Vatican had distributed a survey and encouraged parish level dialogue and input.  As NCR and Joshua McElwee reported:

The Vatican asked national bishops’ conferences around the world to conduct a wide-ranging poll of Catholics asking for their opinions on church teachings on contraception, same-sex marriage and divorce.  Archbishop Lorenzo Baldisseri, secretary general of the Vatican’s Synod of Bishops, asked the conferences to distribute the poll “immediately as widely as possible to deaneries and parishes so that input from local sources can be received.  The poll, which comes in a questionnaire sent to national bishops’ conferences globally in preparation for a Vatican synod on the family next October, is the first time the church’s central hierarchy has asked for such input from grass-roots Catholics since at least the establishment of the synod system following the Second Vatican Council.  The upcoming synod, which Pope Francis announced earlier this month, is to be held Oct. 5-19, 2014, on the theme “Pastoral Challenges of the family in the context of evangelization.”  The questionnaire was sent Oct. 18 from Baldisseri to the presidents of the world’s individual bishops’ conferences.

“At your word: with joy and hope”

Transparency and participation: notes on the method of work in the Diocesan Synod of Bolzano-Bressanone

A synod held in Italy focused on ecology as well as other issues and offers interesting insights into method.  All of the information on the synod is available at http://www.bz-bx.net/sinodo (right click to translate).  The results of the Synod are published in a book: http://www.athesiabuch.it/list?back=f6d9c704c16a9b5eb70c92cd2ff0b790&xid=20134499.

The following, on the thinking and set up behind the synod, is auto-translated from Italian.


“How many chairs we? – Two or three hundred will be enough! “- After all we were optimistic. We had invited members of parish pastoral councils, parish priests, lay people, religious and, through the media, all stakeholders. However, we knew we were asking a lot: to dedicate a whole day, not for recreation, but of hard work, to discuss and reflect together on how to live the faith today and how to pass it tomorrow. It was a fine day, in perfect background for a family outing. If they came in two or three hundred would have been really happy.

Yet despite our predictions, the chairs were not enough. He remained standing, occupying the last corner of the room. It was in 450-500 people of all ages: children, youth, adults and seniors, all gathered to tell their joys and hopes, to share their sorrows and frustrations, to exchange ideas and proposals on the renewal of the Church. At the end of the day, many were saying: “This experience of the Church is new, enriched me, you have to repeat.”

The open meeting of the Synod in Bolzano was emblematic for the whole series of open meetings. The Diocesan Synod has opened its doors and to enter were five thousand. Today, two years after the Diocesan Synod is coming to anend.At the back we have a truly enriching the Church, but also leaves open a question: were worth the commitment of so many people, the time and devoted love?

Why a diocesan synod?

31.12.2012 The Bishop Ivo Muser announced a synod for his Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone. For some time in the diocese rumors – especially among the lay groups – requesting an Synod. After the first discussions under way in this direction, twice interrupted by the untimely death of Bishop Wilhelm Egger and serious illness that affected his successor Karl Golser, Bishop Ivo Muser took over the project in hand.

But why take the long road and tiring of a diocesan synod? How do you play today the synodal tradition in the church?

“Master, we toiled all night and caught not a single fish; But at your word I will let down the nets. “(Lk5,5) The last reason to convene a Synod is the Word of God, entrusted to us as a Church. When the Church is discouraged for its empty nets, Christ calls to himself to encourage it and to send it into the world to proclaim his Word. In this ad, the Church is called to share“thejoys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men, especially the poor and all whosuffer”(GS 1). The Word of God, in fact, is still valid and even today, offering answers to the questions of life. The Church is“trulyand intimately linked with mankind and itshistory”(GS 1), so that the Word, that is entrusted, is a word of joy and hope for the world we live in.

That’s why take the trouble of a Synod: the proclamation of the Word requires us to confront the questions of life, with the changing historical and social contexts. It asks us to reflect on the Church’s contribution to the society in which he lives, on our ways of celebrating, and to proclaim and serve Christ in others. It asks us to reflect on our pastoral practice in the light of the Word of Christ and of people’s everyday lives. The motto of the Synod of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone summarizes this thought; “At your word: with joy and hope.”

How to set up a diocesan synod?

Given these reasons, it was clear, that the Synod was to follow a path marked on dialogue, involvement, on extensive comparison and articulate with people who live on the diocesan territory. Hence two choices: on the one hand, the Synod has been structured in three classic steps of pastoral discernment: see, judge, act; on the other, each of these steps has been combined with a public participation process. If, then, on the one hand there was a “classic” Synod with 248 Synod (1/3 priests, lay 2/3 of which half women), work in commissions, debates and votes, on the other hand, the Synod were invited to work actively with the territory in every phase of the synod.

First phase: “See”

the goal of the first phase was to choose the themes of the Synod, listening to the territory and reading the signs of the times. After the first session (30.11.2014) were held twelve meetings open to the diocesan territory, which saw the participation of three thousand people. The results of these meetings (601 verbal, analytical dossier) have formed the basis for the work of discernment in the second session of the Synod (4-5 April 2014), in which were formulated the themes of the Synod. The work of the Synod has led to the definition of twelve themes, which together take up the challenge to reflect the mission of the local church today to 360 degrees. At the end of the 12 session 2.a been formed commissions, inaugurating the second phase of theSynod.

Second phase: “Judge”

The objective of the second phase was to develop “visions.” Each committee has produced a draft of a “position paper” which in simple language describing the ideal future of the local Church of Bolzano-Bressanone in reference to his theme. To avoid the risk of falling nell’autoreferenzialità once reached two thirds of its path, each committee presented their work at a public meeting. Thousand people from throughout the diocese participated in this new series of twelve meetings, thus giving the commission the opportunity to check your route with the help of God’s people. The conclusion of the second phase took place in two plenary sessions ( January 30 to 31 and 6 to 7 February 2015), in which the policy documents were discussed and approved.

Third phase: “Acting”

the goal of the third phase was to translate into action the vision and objectives contained in policy documents . The committees have therefore defined practices and structural measures actions. Even at this stage the Synod has opened its doors, inviting all those who were interested to participate in the “Forum of the Synod”, held at the Fiera di Bolzano. Entering into dialogue with the committees and experts from various sectors more than 700 people brought their suggestions at this stage of the Synod. The committee work in this phase was coordinated by the “Central Committee”, composed of two members of each committee. It sought to identify and resolve conflicts and overlapping between measures that were developing in the various committees. At the same time the central commission reorganized measures and measures of the different committees into “areas of work”, in order to facilitate the implementation of the same once the Synod. In this way was born one “measures paper” which was debated and voted in the two sessions of 23-24 October and November 27 to 28. The conclusion of the Diocesan Synod is scheduled for December 8, 2015, 50.mo anniversary of the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council and beginning of the Year of the Holy Mercy.

Reflections on some experiences that characterize the Synod of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone

  1. a) Open meetings: openness and transparency

Active participation of the population has been a characteristic feature of the Diocesan Synod. Nearly five thousand people took part in open meetings, handing the diocesan history a unique opportunity for dialogue and sharing. Open dialogue and sharing of experiences have emerged not as a means to achieve a goal, but as a central attitudes for a Church “out”, which is close to the people in the contemporary world.

The keys to success of this dialogue with the population They were the opening and transparency. Enter into dialogue means to listen with open minds: from the beginning the Bishop has asked for a debate without taboos, to the maximum openness and willingness to listen, without exclusion of topics. Synodality presupposes sincere con’altro meeting, but because of this also demands a willingness to even listen to uncomfortable truths, burning issues. At the same time there is synodality without transparency. Enter into dialogue means to repay what we have heard and give an account of what is done. For this reason all the minutes of public meetings were published on the website of the Synod, without embellishment or censorship. For the same ragionei works in sessions they have always been held in open court both for the media and for all interested persons.

  1. B) The issue of “themes sovradiocesani”

This desire for openness and dialogue bluntly has also led to misunderstandings and conflicts: it’s all legitimate, all true, all on the same level? As an advisory body at the disposal of the bishop, a Diocesan Synod shall have jurisdiction only in matters relating to the jurisdiction of the Bishop. What then of all the “sovradiocesane” issues, ie issues that go beyond the competence of the diocesan bishop alone? You can think of a collegiality that starts by listening to the people of God, without giving visibility and continuity to sovradiocesane issues? If the universal Church wants to be a church listening, listening to this it will have to happen in the first place in the local Churches. That’s why the Bishop Ivo Muser has decided to allow the debate on sovradiocesane issues, by mandating a synodal commission to document and summarize the results. Documenting and publishing the debate on these issues, a local Church listens tries to make its contribution to the universal Church listening on all levels.

  1. C) Documents “grown” from the bottom

in this project in an open and dell ‘ listening has met considerable difficulties in the texts. She could entrust the preparation of the drafts to theologians experts in various fields, with the advantage of producing comprehensive texts, both from a theological point of view, stylistic. In doing so, however, it would be difficult to represent in the texts the synodal process of listening and discernment. Hence the choice to compose texts in choral way in committees, relying on the professional competence of the moderators. For each committee, in fact, he has been joined by a person skilled in participatory processes, to ensure that the texts were also expressed by the Synod discernment process and all the local Church. This resulted texts “on the way”, whose strength lies in being unanimous expression of a process. Texts of different colorings in style and theology, which, in some ways, are raw remained incomplete in theology and in substance, but that reciprocate fully reflect“thejoys and hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of a Church on the way.

  1. d) Overcoming the logic of

last interesting experience from the point of view of the method was the time of the debates and votes in the sessions of the Synod, which has enabled us to deepen the meaning of collegiality, which exceeds the interest and the logic part. Two, fundamentally, the experiences that, in their difference, are worthy of reflection.

At the conclusion of the second phase of the Synod texts were discussed and approved in the order of the committees. The method used was similar to that parliamentary, punctuated by debates on amendments and general chapters and texts. It is noted that treating one at a time the texts of the various commissions, the climate was deteriorating over time, while remaining generally positive. He could feel a kind of “one against all”: putting at the plenary session examined the text of one committee were born of attack and defense mechanisms, ill suited to the idea of Community synodal process in the light of the Word.

At the conclusion of the third phase while still using the same Regulation, the working climate has presented different, more peaceful, constructive, purposeful, more banner of a synodal really common. This change is the result substantially different from the workspace switcher in the committees, which at this stage was coordinated by the “Central Committee.” The material produced by the commission was reorganized on the basis of areas of action, creating a polyphonic document, composed of the contribution of all. In this way, the phase of discernment and vote in the plenary took on a different meaning. He could feel a greater awareness Synod, to build together the Church, across the board to the various sensitivities and issues.

The conclusion: to start and continue!

While the synod draws to an end (as mentioned, the liturgical conclusion will take place on December 8), will feel some concern: the experience of ecclesial synodal these days will remain a nice way, but without continuation? Or is it really going to change something in the style and the local Church? Many people have seen in the Synod, in setting the work and openness to dialogue and listening, a new model of the Church. The same people now, in addition to the implementation of individual decisions, they expect this style to continue. Many claim that the synod marks the beginning of a path that will lead to a change in the “march” in the Church, where transparency and participation are truly the way of style. A Church in the name of co-responsibility and sharing.

Many times the form is as important as the content: in addition to the various decisions the methodology of the Diocesan Synod has a fundamental significance. The Synod has highlighted one possible way of being Church, a style, which involved and excited. And now, in front of us, it opens a new challenge: to be able to carry it lived in “ordinary” of the diocese and its communities?

Reinhard Demetz

Secretary of the Diocesan Synod of Bolzano-Bressanone

San Diego diocesan synod seeks to put ‘Amoris Laetitia’ into action

A representative from of one of the working groups at the diocesan synod hands her group’s scroll of resolutions to Bishop Robert McElroy at the synod’s conclusion. At right, Paulist Fr. John Hurley. (Denis Grasska photo/Southern Cross)
To develop achievable, realistic ways to respond to the challenges of Pope Francis’ recent apostolic exhortation on marriage and family life, the San Diego diocese held a groundbreaking synod process which culminated Oct. 29-30.Representing each of the diocese’s nearly 100 parishes, 113 delegates distilled three recommendations for each of “five major challenges” contained in Francis’ Amoris Laetitia (“The Joy of Love”) and further detailed in the pastoral letter by San Diego Bishop Robert McElroy, which announced a synod would take place:

  • The challenge to witness to both the beauty and realism of the Catholic vision of marriage and family life;
  • The challenge to form a culture of invitation and hospitality to unmarried couples;
  • The challenge to welcome, nurture and form children;
  • The challenge to provide authentic pastoral support for those who are divorced; and
  • The challenge to bring spiritual depth to family life.

Presented to McElroy at the conclusion of a long weekend of intense discussion and deliberation, the 15 recommendations:

  • Called for parishes to establish mentoring teams to “welcome and accompany young adults,” to support married couples, to “engage military families,” and to carry out marriage-preparation follow-up;
  • Urged development of education and “formation in the areas of conscience formation and the internal forum, not only to implement the pathway to sacramental participation [for divorced and remarried] outlined in ‘The Joy of Love,’ but even more fundamentally to illuminate a core element of Christian discipleship itself;”
  • Asked for creation of a “Diocesan Office for Family Spirituality” that would, among other things, “develop resources for parishes to minister to families” including “the divorced, single-parent, widowed, deployed, deported, special needs, multigenerational households, LGBT”;
  • Encouraged nurturing “a culture of support” in parishes and adding a staff position in the diocesan Office for Marriage and Family Life to provide help “for those in all stages of separation and divorce.”

In the closing afternoon’s background reflection on resolutions from the working group on pastoral support for the divorced, group facilitator Kent Peters* said that if provisions suggested in the group’s recommendations had been in place during the life of his mother, her life could have been much different.

On Saturday he shared with the assembly about how his mother had felt abandoned by her spouse, by her parish, by her church, and by her Catholic friends because of the stigma of divorce. “An additional dagger in the back,” he said, was his father’s subsequent annulment of that marriage so he could remarry in the Catholic church.

McElroy set the tone for the two-day assembly in his opening remarks, echoing a theme that ran through Amoris Laetitia and his own pastoral letter, “Embracing the Joy of Love.”

Related: “San Diego diocese gets ready for synod on family life” (Oct. 27, 2016)

It must be recognized that “judgmentalism must be radically banished if we are to deliberate in a manner reflective of the God whose mercy knows no limits and a church made not only for the pure, but for all,” the bishop told delegates.

“We are called to tend to the spiritual, emotional and material wounds of those who are hurting deeply, not becoming focused on peripheral questions or shortcomings, but focusing on how the church can make a dramatic difference,” he said.

“That is what this synod is all about,” said Emily Reimer-Barry, alluding to McElroy’s remarks. Reimer-Barry, who is department chair of theology and religious studies at the University of San Diego, served as the theological adviser to the working group on “The Challenge to Form a Culture of Invitation and Hospitality to Unmarried Couples.”

“Yes, the church has this body of teaching about marriage, this commitment to marriage,” she said. “But so many people in our world perceive those teachings as limiting, judgmental, and they feel excluded from being able to experience the fullness of grace.”

“Divorce, married civilly, a member of family being deported. So many instances of families hurting in our context. Just reiterating church teachings is not enough,” she added. “Focusing on the church as a field hospital and source of mercy, from Pope Francis’ recent exhortation, is just a really provocative way to think about being the church here in San Diego. I am delighted to witness this process and participate in this.”

The pastoral paths forward, hammered out over the weekend, were the culmination of a six-month process that involved debate, discussion and synthesizing hundreds of ideas, concerns, insights and hopes shared by thousands of parishioners during grassroots listening sessions and follow-up working groups over the months since the April 8 release of Amoris Laetitia and the follow-up pastoral letter by McElroy in early May.

While the delegates forged agreement on the final resolutions, there also appeared to be unspoken consensus that the process itself marked “an opening of the doors” and “reaching out to the unreachable” in the words of Lulu Valdivia, who represented San Diego’s Our Lady of Refuge Parish and has worked extensively in post-abortion ministry.

She added: “I will say to Pope Francis and Bishop McElroy, it is just such a joy having the feedback and attention from you — me as a person, as a mother, as someone who has had trauma in the past. And you come and knock on the door and say, ‘I’m here, what can I do for you?’ Through these questions and the answering of the questions, I know there’s hope coming. The thing is how do we reach more people? We need to reach more people. As I said, this is only the beginning.”

Attendees share their reactions to the San Diego diocesan synod (Video by Amy and Dan Morris-Young) 

Fr. John Dolan, vicar of clergy and pastor of two San Diego parishes — St. Vincent de Paul and St. John the Evangelist — lauded the synod’s structure and process.

“I would say more than anything that the process and the synod itself are probably more important to me than the actual results,” Dolan said.

SD Synod program_web.jpg
Program from the San Diego diocesan synod

“The process is very important because dialogue is essential,” he added. “There are two different forms of doing church. One is very dialogical, and the other is from a monological sense. And we have dealt with that monological world: things come from on high; they get shelved in some pastor’s corner … but ultimately it’s ‘We’re going to tell you what to think.’ And the dialogical world says: ‘Let’s all talk about this.’ The synod really has been a great model for doing that.”

According to synod coordinator Paulist Fr. John Hurley and many delegates, McElroy underscored that the synod’s ultimate success will be measured by how well the derived action items are implemented.

“I think that if we want to be successful in this synod, we need to be laser-focused on executing the goals we’ve put forth,” said Heidi Chokeir, delegate from San Diego’s Santa Sophia Parish where she and her husband have been “actively involved in marriage ministries for more than 12 years.”

A biotech communications consultant, Chokeir said, “The synod has been incredibly well organized and executed in terms of helping us explore the needs of the people and possible ways to respond to those needs, and then narrow it down to actionable goals. We’ve been pushed in our working groups to write each proposal as an action that is attainable, so we can’t be wishy-washy and dreamy about things that aren’t possible. We have to be grounded in realism if we are actually going to make an impact with all of this.”

McElroy agrees. “If there’s no follow-through, this model has failed. There has to be substantial follow-through.”

“I will be the chair of the implementation committee,” he continued, “but it will be drawn from lay leaders here, some of the religious, deacons and priests, who are in this group now. So, there will be a follow-through in terms of membership.”

He added, “And it’s not like I think every goal will necessarily be fully and ideally implemented, but that we follow through on this in large part at all the different levels in the life of the diocese is important. That will be a test of whether this model works.”

Hurley said the diocesan synod implementation committee will probably be composed of at least three representatives from each of the five working groups that have distilled grassroots input on the five challenges areas.

Delegates repeatedly told NCR that they and fellow parishioners were encouraged and energized by the invitation to share thoughts and experiences of family life and marriage.

“It has been awesome,” said Kim Dung Nguyen, delegate from San Diego’s Our Lady of the Sacred Heart Parish. “The listening sessions have been helpful to me, helpful to the church. It is eye-opening for me to see what other [parishes] are doing, what other support groups or resources are out there in the diocese that I can learn from, and embrace and bring with me and share with our church.”

“It’s just phenomenal. It’s a lot of information,” added the mother of two.

Rodrigo Valdivia, diocesan chancellor, called the synod “a monumental moment in the life of the diocese” which emphasized that “we have a role to play in owning our church.”

“From my perspective, having served in the church as a layperson for many years,” he said, “I see this as a wonderful opportunity for people to see that laypeople can participate in decision making in the church. This process, I think, is really inclusive of lay people — lay leaders, but also just faithful parishioners. I think the bishop has made an opportunity for the Spirit to move in that way, and it’s a great thing. Laypeople don’t often have an opportunity … to participate in this decision making.”

Fr. Michael Murphy, director of the diocesan Office of Priests and pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Coronado, pointed to the synod’s role in affirming the richness of church teaching, but applying it by “really accompanying people along the journey to holiness, as the pope says.”

“Of course, that’s our primary call. But too often, I think, the people in the parish, in the pews, see just barriers there,” he continued. “What I hope comes out of this is that we begin to find some ways around the barriers, not to change any of our doctrine, because our doctrine is sound, it is truth. But how do we, using the pope’s understanding, lead people along who can’t embrace it all the way?”

A popular retreat master and spiritual director, Murphy was the theologian consultant to the working group exploring how to deepen family spiritual life.

Asked what he judged to be the level of synod “buy-in” by clergy of the diocese, especially pastors, Murphy said it was his “sense from the priests who I have spoken with that they’re excited about it because they see that there can be some movement.”

“I think the concern is — as it always is with pastors — ‘What else are you going to give me to do?’ I think they are concerned that there are going to be all these directives that they’re now going to have to implement in the parish,” Murphy said.

“In fact, Bishop McElroy has already addressed that in an earlier meeting where he said that’s what we have to avoid,” Murphy added. “He understands pastors are going to say, ‘Don’t lay all this stuff on us. We are busy enough in our parishes. Don’t ask us to do more things.’ So I think there is some caution in that. But I think there is an excitement. … I think Pope Francis has stimulated excitement in the church. I think we’re all feeling that.”

McElroy said the issue of adding work for pastors and/or parish staffs has been front-and-center since he announced the upcoming synod in his pastoral letter.

A former pastor in the San Francisco archdiocese himself, McElroy said, “We’ve got to make it ‘pastor friendly’ … in the sense that it cannot impose significant additional burdens on the pastors or the parish staffs.”

“Many of the things we have talked about are a change of culture,” said McElroy. “The priests will be willing to do not only some things a little bit differently, but also some additional things.”

Reflecting “the face of the diocese” and the region’s “extraordinary diversity,” roughly half of the delegates were Latino, synod coordinator Hurley said, with representation of Vietnamese, Filipino and other ethnic groups, among participants whose average age was 43.

“One of the things that has been brought to our attention is that this appears to be the first thematic synod” [on the application of Amoris Laetitia], he explained. “We are not aware of anything else of this magnitude.”

McElroy and Hurley said there seems to be interest among other dioceses and from other bishops in San Diego’s synodal design and single-topic focus.

Other bishops “have asked me about it,” McElroy said. “Several wrote to me … because they knew it was starting, and said they’re praying for it [the synod], which was nice. They find it interesting. A number of them have asked me how it’s going, and I’m sure they will ask me how it went.”

There were no models on which to base the synod’s input gathering, feedback synthesizing, assembly deliberation and follow-up, Hurley said.

“We pretty much developed it ourselves,” the Paulist said.

McElroy said the diocese might consider a similar synodal approach to other areas of church life in the future. He mentioned the church’s weak track record with young adults as an example. In his pastoral letter, the bishop described the low rate of millennials taking active part in the church as “the most significant pastoral challenge to the church in the United States.”

The last San Diego diocesan synod was held 40 years ago.

With Catholics numbering just over one million in a larger population of about 3.2 million, the San Diego diocese is contiguous with San Diego and Imperial counties of California, and borders on Mexico.

Amy Morris Young is a regular NCR contributor. Dan Morris Young writes for NCR’s reporting project on parish life, The Field Hospital.

Detroit synod aims to change archdiocese’s ‘DNA’

For an overview of Detroit’s previous synod and process, see immediately below this article.

Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron poses April 5 with a young Muslim boy and girl during a “unity lunch” with local Muslim leaders in Dearborn, Mich. (CNS/Mike Stechschulte, The Michigan Catholic)Kristen Whitney Daniels  |  Nov. 17, 2016

Clergy, religious and laity in the Detroit archdiocese on Friday will convene for the archdiocese’s first synod in almost 50 years. “Synod ’16: Unleash the Gospel” — the official title — “is both an event and a process that sees people … gather to discuss important matters of faith” according to a press releasefrom the archdiocese.

In the release, Detroit Archbishop Allen Vigneron also stated that the synod serves two roles: to focus on the missionary purpose of the church and to change the “DNA” of the archdiocese.“The focus of this Synod is evangelization, to attempt a radical overhaul of the Church in Detroit, a complete reversal of our focus from an inward, or maintenance-focused church, to outward, or mission-focused church,” according to the release. The purpose is also “to transform the very culture of our Archdiocese — how we work, how we pray, how we minister, everything — so that in everything we do, we are more effective witnesses to the Gospel.”Vigneron told NCR that some of the inspiration for this “radical overhaul” came from Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortations Evangelii Gaudium and Amoris Laetitia and the Aparecida document from South America, which Francis helped write prior to his appointment as pope.  “We often quote Aparecida that ‘the best thing that’s ever happened is to know Christ and the best thing we can do is to share Him with other people,’ ” said Vigneron.

“So the new evangelization is what I think the [Second Vatican] council has asked us to consider and my way of looking at this is that since the council ended, we’ve been getting ourselves ready to do this second phase, this missionary phase,” he added.

Approximately 400 participants from across the archdiocese will join Vigneron in discussing this new missionary phase for the archdiocese. At the start of the participant selection, every parish in the archdiocese nominated three parishioners. The Archdiocese Pastoral Council, a group of lay members who advise the archbishop, was then tasked with narrowing down the list and presenting it to the archbishop.

“[The APC] really looked at the faith life of the individuals, [and in] doing that, we’ve really come away with a diverse gift,” said Msgr. Ron Browne, synod secretary.  Diversity was something Vigneron actively sought during the selection of members for the synod.  “This was very much on the mind of the archbishop when [the application process] was being done,” said Browne.

“We wanted a synod that looked like the archdiocese, so that means we need persons of color in addition to people of European background,” Vigneron said. “That means we need Hispanics, we need African-Americans, we need people from the Middle East.”

“Also age with a bit of a bias, I’ll be honest, toward youth and young adults,” he added. “We need to know what they think and how they think and they need to be part of the synod. That’s not the group you usually get. We needed to be very intentional about inviting them to the synod.”

While not all of the 1.3 million self-identifying Catholics in the archdiocese could be physically present for the three-day event, the synod is actually the culmination of multiple archdiocesan wide events dating back five years.  In 2011, Vigneron formed the New Evangelization Initiative to evaluate the next steps for the archdiocese. Although the idea for a synod was in the back of Vigneron’s mind, that wasn’t his immediate concern.

“[The synod] was an important idea that I had but I really wanted to have the leadership team engaged,” Vigneron said. “And so once we began to think about who we are and what we should think about, then we took up the question of whether or not the synod would be a good idea. And across the board, it was endorsed.”

It wasn’t until May 2015 that Vigneron officially announced Synod ’16. The archdiocese then held a variety of events aimed to include the greater archdiocesan community. A prayer service titled “Encounter Christ!” was held at more than 40 parishes in the archdiocese from fall 2015 through summer 2016, with more than 10,000 participants.

In the spring, the archdiocese held 240 different parish meetings called Parish Dialogue Gatherings. In total, tens of thousands of Catholics attended the gatherings and submitted over 11,000 summary documents to the archdiocese. Those documents were then used to create discussion themes for the synod.

As for the topics being discussed at the synod, there is a lot of “room for innovation,” according to Vigneron.

Shying away from “programmatic topics” such as young adults, marriage and family life — like discussed at the recent synod in San DiegoVigneron said the synod will be broken up based on individuals, families, parishes and archdiocesan central services.

“One of the things we said from the beginning is we didn’t want this to become a typical strategic planning process because we had the sense that that’s too much business as usual,” he said. “We think it opens the widest possibility for creative innovation.”

Within those four themes, small groups will discuss topics brought up by the Parish Dialogue Gatherings and will be asked to select a topic that “really stands out as where we should start in becoming an evangelizing, missionary archdiocese,” Browne said. During the synod, a scribe will be assigned to each table to make sure that every thought is captured and given to Browne to be summarized for the archbishop.

According to The Michigan Catholic, the archdiocese’s newspaper, these are the propositions that garnered the most support in each category during the synod:

  • Individuals and families: “Envision and develop a plan for ongoing human and spiritual formation for all stages of life (e.g. children, youth, adults and seniors.)”
  • Parish Culture: “Build a culture of personal encounter with Jesus that permeates every aspect of parish life and that leads to a loving encounter of our neighbor.”
  • Parish Functions (Pray, Invite, Connect, Mentor, Send): “Equip, empower, and support individuals and families in mission (e.g. evangelization, social and economic transformation, and spiritual and corporal works of mercy).”
  • Parish Leadership: “Establish pastoral leadership teams as a normative practice, where team members develop shared responsibility and accountability both to the vision of the Archbishop and the mission of the parish. Extend the same team dynamics and practices to all parish and/or school staff.”
  • Archdiocesan Central Services: “Build a framework for mutual accountability between pastors, parishes, schools and the Central Services. To build a foundation for this, heal wounded relationships, build trust and practice transparency.”

While the propositions played an important part, many synod members felt some of the more fruitful discussions weren’t the ones that received the most votes.

Members often talked about their excitement to be part of the synod and the change it has already brought in their respective lives.

Parishioners from the Detroit archdiocese came out to support synod members as they walked from their meeting space to mass throughout the weekend. (NCR/Kristen Whitney Daniels)

“[The archbishop] really does want to see if there is anything unique or prophetic. He wants that captured, he doesn’t want that lost,” said Browne.

On June 4, 2017, Vigneron will announce the results of Synod ’16 and the concrete measures the archdiocese will begin to undertake.

But for now, both Vigneron and Browne are looking forward to the culmination of years of preparation.

“What I’m looking forward to or hoping is that the energy from our preparations and our regional meetings will continue to be present at the synod,” Browne said. “And that it will have an effect on all of us. That we’ll really be strengthened in our love for our faith but also just a great joy coming forward in being involved in such a beautiful process and opportunity like this.”

“I’m looking forward to spending three days listening and contributing and being part of this whole process,” Vigneron added. “I would say just doing the synod is already producing a lot of the fruit we’ve been looking for. It’s galvanizing our Catholic community and moving us ahead to act together as a missionary church.”

Kristen Whitney Daniels in an NCR Bertelsen editorial intern. Her email address is [email protected]

By Janet Schaeffler, OP

In an issue of Today’s Parish, pastoral planner Fr. Robert Howes wrote forcefully about our urgent need to develop an ever WIDER WE in our parishes and dioceses (“Shared Responsibility: How are we Doing?” Today’s Parish, January 1991, page 5).

In this article, Fr. Howes encourages us to remember that “people do best what they have decided together.” As part of his recommendations, Fr. Howes urges parishes to remember that good parish pastoral councils and parish staffs should never be the exclusive vehicle for shared responsibility and pastoral planning. He calls for pastoral leaders to survey parishioners often, to institute parish pastoral assemblies, and together, as a people, to dare to think new thoughts and enact new dramas. While Fr. Howes has extensive pastoral experience behind his suggestions, his article did not mention any specific examples of parishes where these kinds of things have been done successfully. Without such examples, some might be tempted to believe that all this talk about a WIDER WE is a nice theory with little application in the real world. Here is one example of a parish which attempted one endeavor that certainly followed his exhortations in planning a parish synod.


The seeds of our parish synod were planted many years ago in our archdiocesan Synod ’69. Synod ’69 was a vibrant and exciting experience for the church of Detroit. Because of John Cardinal Dearden’s vision and encouragement, people studied and listened, shared ideas and hopes, and influenced the future vision of their archdiocese. This opportunity for small groups to dream and recommend future directions for the archdiocesan church validated people’s experience and solidified their desire to be church.

It has been said that Vatican I helped us to discover the universal church. In the same way, Vatican II brought attention to the local church (the diocese). We are only beginning to understand the influence of the parish (and we have miles to go to realize and support the domestic church – the family). Realizing that the time had come to strengthen and become church at the parish level, and recognizing the power of our archdioocesan Synod ’69, our parish designed, shared, and celebrated Parish Synod ’99.


On the threshold of the new millennium, the pastoral staff thought that a parish synod would be an opportune time for people to talk, to share, to dream, to complain, and to heal. The fruits of this synod could give direction to the parish pastoral council, the commissions, and pastoral staff for years to come. The staff went to the parish pastoral council, commissions, and other active groups in the parish with this dream and asked if they agreed that a synod was needed. We also thought a lot about rewards and risks. We hoped that some of the rewards would be a more informed parish community, a better sense of identity, new friendships, more involvement, a surfacing of needs, and an increased sense of mission. But we also knew that the risks of the synod included: hearing from people who usually always viewed things negatively, having the same people as always participating, burnout because of the extensive time commitment, and disappointing people if the parish didn’t follow through on all their suggestions. These risks seemed daunting, but as more and more people talked about the synod, the enthusiasm for the rewards mounted and the parish council made the decision to proceed.

A Steering Committee formulated the following goals for the Synod:

  1. To increase the sense of belonging among parishioners;
  2. To invite participation of those who only come to church on Sunday;
  3. To provide a vehicle for people to explore and express their feelings about what it means to be a parish;
  4. To enrich understanding of what a parish is, could be, and should be;
  5. To receive suggestions from the home discussion groups that could be implemented in the parish.

Three subcommittees were formed with representatives from all aspects of parish life:

  1. Publicity: This committee kept the upcoming synod before the parish through mailings, posters, articles, announcements, balloons, T-shirts, etc.
  2. Logistics: Home group hosts/hostesses and facilitators were recruited and trained. Parishioners were assigned home groups according to time availability and location.
  3. Program: This committee designed the “agendas” for each week’s home group meetings, which included: 
    • articles to read
    • videos to watch (made by our parish video team about the philosophy and programs of our parish)
    • questions for discussion
    • ideas for prayer


On a Sunday evening, all participants gathered for a kick-off gathering that included memories of the past, a three-screen video and slide presentation with music and narration (illustrating our parish as people living life together faithfully), an overview of all the workings of the synod, questions, prayer, and socializing. Our prayer together included a commissioning of all participants during which the hosts/hostesses were called forth according to the location of their group meeting – the north, south, east, and west. They each received a candle to use at each home group session.


Each home group met at least six times. The first week they explored the topic, “What is Parish?” The second week they explored “Celebrating Who We are” (Worship). The topic of week three was “Learning Who We are” (Education), and “Living who We Are” (Christian Service) was the topic of week four. During weeks five and six each group decided how they wanted to continue. For example, the groups could return to a topic that they hadn’t had a chance to finish in the first four weeks; they could address another topic on parish life in which they were interested (if they needed materials, the Program Committee was available to help), or they could examine one of the following topics for which the Program Committee had prepared materials): 

  • We Belong Together (Social)
  • Catholic Identity – Parish Identity
  • We are Called to Mission – to Reach Out
  • We Celebrate with Music

At the end of each session, each group submitted the recommendations and suggestions for future approaches and programs within the parish that had surfaced during their discussions.


On a Sunday evening two weeks after the last home session, all participants gathered again at the parish. The entire evening was in the context of prayer. As each direction (north, south, east, west) was mentioned, the hosts/hostesses from that area lit their candles. In response to the readings (from Cardinal Dearden and John 15: 9-17) each participant jotted down their thoughts and feelings about their synod experience. These were collected as a sign of offering ourselves, our experiences, our dreams, and our hopes. The chairpersons of each parish council commission gave brief overviews of the main themes running through the recommendations that came from the home groups. We then journeyed outside, the way lit by luminarias, to plant a tree – a constant reminder of the growth that occurred and hopefully will continue to occur because of the synod. The dirt that was used to plant the tree had been gathered at the last home sessions when each participant brought a little dirt from around his/her home. This dirt came from holy ground – because God is there. As the participants had given their dirt to their group leaders, they also told the group of a time when they were conscious of God’s presence in their homes. As we returned from the tree planting for our final blessing, booklets for group members, containing all the submitted recommendations, were distributed by the facilitators. We blessed these booklets, our work, and then ourselves by praying a prayer of blessing from the six directions (north, south, east, west, the heavens, the earth). The evening concluded with a spirited party.


Each submitted recommendation was given to the appropriate commission or group within the parish. There were wonderful ideas – enough for goals and programs for the next several years. A committee from the parish council coordinated all the efforts so that the parish was kept informed of how each recommendation was implemented.


In addition to the recommended ideas for the future, it seems that there were many other intangible results. These are some of the thoughts and feelings that were jotted down at the closing ceremonies:

“Synod for me was an opportunity to grow and see Christ in others and to share myself with them. I saw the quiet, lonely Christ, the Christ who was hurt by an oversight. I saw the Christ who was happy and eager to share with others; the mature Christ who shared reflections of past times.”

“In all participants and events I saw the Christ who cares deeply and never stops trying – who sees gifts in everyone and knows they can be used for everyone’s benefit.”  What I found to be most meaningful was a greater realization of our interdependence.”

“I became impressed with how human we all are … and yet for all our weaknesses and human pettiness we are still trying to rise above ourselves to be one with the Lord. There were flashes of saintliness among us.”

“Something that struck me as peculiar was that a change in the church that I perceived as very positive could be negative for someone else. We had a real different group of people but all had a common warmth.”

“I experienced a desire to grow in my faith. Also a wonderful sense of love with a caring group.”

“I was able to speak of my own thoughts and what I was feeling at that moment to a small group of people who listened but didn’t always agree with what I had to say. I liked that, because we all shared our own thoughts openly. We all learned a lot.”

“Synod was an opportunity to pretend that anything could happen – a time of Christmas when Santa would bring what we asked for, a time for prayers answered. We dreamed of a parish where love abounds – where each person’s wishes were heard – where everyone respected and listened and heard.”

“The gathering as a small community was intimate and conducive to sharing feelings about my faith in a very special way, unlike any other. Everyone wanted to be there.”

“The feeling throughout all of our meetings was camaraderie – no matter what age, belief, or walk of life – I came to realize lasting friendships above all else.” And many of the home groups continue to meet!

Copyright © 2002 (Janet Schaeffler, OP). All Rights Reserved. The resources below are from www.janetschaeffler.com

Within the 
joys and hopes
 struggles and challenges
dreams and visions
 griefs and anxieties
 prayers and reaching out
of everyone of us 
there is the need for growth, 
the desire for deepening formation, ever-growing closer to our God, 
one another and all of God’s creation.
Formation Opportunities       
need to be planned by and for the needs of the participants.





#1 (September 2010): The Sunday-Monday Connection
#2 (October 2010): A Year of Renewal 
#11 (September 2011): Online Scripture Study
#12 (October 2011): A Vicariate Mission
#14 (December 2011): Parish Lenten Book Study Process
#20 (June 2012): A Retreat by Parishioners
For more resources and ideas on Best Practices in Adult Formation, see The Seasons of Adult Faith Formation
#25 (January 2013): Lenten Evening of Prayer
#31 (July 2013): Parish Week of Renewal
#32 (August 2013): Girlfriends in God 
#35 (November 2013): A Locally Developed Video Series
#36 (December 2013): One Word 
#37 (January 2014): Stations of the Cross
#38 (February 2014): Movies at the Parish
#39 (March 2014): Blessing of Bikes 
#40 (April 2014): Technology in our Ministry
      #44 (August 2014): A Themed Approach to Lifelong Formation
              #45 (September 2014): Prayer Forms
                 #46 (October 2014): Hospitality Update I
 #48 (December 2014): Hospitality Update III
#47 (November 2014): Hospitality Update II
         #49 (January 2015): An Art Conference
          #50 (February 2015): It Happens at Home
#51 (March 2015): A Theme that Grows and Grows
#52 (April 2015): Praying with the Labyrinth
#53 (May 2015: Prayer Forms (Part II)
#54 (June 2015): Enjoying and Sharing Books
          #56 (August 2015): Hospitality Update IV
      #57 (September 2015): Hospitality Update V
#58 (October 2015): Hospitality Update VI
  #59 (November 2015): Technology in Adult Faith Formation
#60 (December 2015): A Digital Lent and Device Sunday
#61 (January 2016): Lenten Soup & Bread
#62 (February 2016): A Right Brain Process
           #63 (March 2016: Body and Soul
#64 (April 2016): Support for Grandparents (Part I)
#65 (May 2016): Support for Grandparents (Part II)
#66 (June 2016): Support for Grandparents (Part III)
   #68 (August 2016): Celebrating Creationtide (Part I)
#69 (September 2016): Celebrating Creationtide (Part II)
#70 (October 2016): Video for Adult Faith Formation
#71 (November 2016): Prayer Forms (Part III)