On Saturday 20 January, a group met at the Pastoral Centre to reflect on the synodal journey in Hallam so far, to think about the synopsis sent from the synod meeting in Rome in October and to listen together to the Holy Spirit’s suggestions for the year ahead. It was an open invitation to attend, advertised in the Hallam Bridge, on the website, sent out to parishes for newsletters and bulletins. Twenty-seven people attended, it was good to see everyone, many of whom have been involved in the synodal process in the diocese since the outset in October 2021.
We began with a reminder of the journey so far, taking a moment to reflect, then watching a lovely video montage of the previous 2 diocesan synod meetings. We asked the guidance of the Holy Spirit in praying the Adsumus prayer. This has been a heartbeat to all our meetings, a version of that used through the centuries at synod meetings in the Catholic tradition.
The work of the day was built on 4 documents: 1) the summary synod report of Hallam diocese ‘Bringing it all Together’; 2) the synthesis report from the first session of the assembly of the synod in Rome 2023; 3) the invitation letter to the People of God from the Vatican synod office with suggestions about the next steps, and 4) a summary sheet of the 82 proposals that arose from the Rome 2023 meeting. The task was to integrate these four sources through prayer, listening, sharing and discernment to decide which of the proposals were possible for parishes and/or the diocese and which of these then seemed to be priorities to carry forward. It was a pleasure to have Bishop Ralph join the group and he will take an account of the discussions in a submission from the diocese requested by the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW)
Reflecting on what has happened in parishes so far in the diocese, people were pleased to note many things had flourished with the impetus of the synod process, from paying attention to being more welcoming, to increasing Care for Creation, to nourishing the prayer life of the parish. One of the prompts from the synod meeting in Rome was for us to go back to the original synod exercise and think about how to engage those who weren’t involved or were minimally involved in the original conversations. The group discernment process identified furthering the involvement of young people, of priests, and of other Christian communities. These were all identified as voices which still need to be heard in the synodal journey in Hallam. Talking to catechists, school chaplains and others involved in work with young people was seen as a possible way forward. It was suggested that some priests might have been unable to attend this meeting due to their parish mass commitments so another meeting will be offered at a different time, open to priests and others. Some priests have however expressed a reluctance to be involved in the synodal process; while it may be a personal choice as to their alignment with this work of the church, people were uneasy about how this left the People of God in a particular parish deprived of or even perhaps unaware of, opportunities that were available for Conversations in the Spirit and developing of an understanding of synodality. Pope Francis is clear that the sort of clericalism whereby a priest sees himself as anything other than the servant of his flock is not how he understands the call of the Holy Spirit. We can pray for those members of the People of God so deprived and urge them to look to the diocesan or other parish resources where synodality is welcomed as a blessing.
Attention to the language of the Church, to ensure it offered a message that was accessible and understood by everyone was another priority and included the question of how women’s experience can be reflected in the language, imagery, understanding and leadership in the Church. This was also seen as part of a wider task of formation in synodality which is being asked for by many of the People of God. As time goes on and it is clear that synodality is here to stay. Grumbles about the word ‘synodality’ were again expressed, as they have been before. However, there was acceptance that getting on with the business of “journeying together” might include unpacking and working to understand and help others to understand this language. It was pointed out that the discussions of Vatican II were in Latin and for this synod there were multiple and immediate language translations, so this could be regarded as an improvement.
The meeting ended with a prayerful reflection on the Gospel of the day and the message of the Holy Spirit to get on with the work of the synodal journey back to their parishes and homes.
Keep an eye on the Hallam website and Hallam Bridge, our social media where interesting learning opportunities for faith and synodality are regularly posted. Do get in touch if you want more information or for ways of being more involved.
Fionnuala Frances and Kevan Grady
Formation and Mission