I had a difficult time trying to decide under which forum I should put this post, but I finally decided on Governance.  It was in working with various pastoral planning committees and groups that I discovered something absolutely essential but to which I had been giving only cursory attention:  prayer and faith sharing.

The work of most of the councils, committees, commissions is really pastoral planning:  praying and thinking together about the actions of the Body of Christ in a specific time and specific place.  Most of us most of the time focus most of our attention on the "planning" activity.  Sure, we may open and close each meeting with a prayer but frankly it too easily becomes a routine detail to be gotten out of the way so we can get down to the real business of planning:  visions, mission, goals, objective, assessment, budgets, activities, etc. etc. etc.  I would argue that if we have not taken the time and energy to open ourselves up to the action of the Divine in each of us and unless we share those insights with each other, we are wasting our time. 

Most of us Catholics have not been formed in any kind of faith sharing.  Our experience of the action of the Divine in our personal lives was typically devalued if noticed at all.  Our formation was more along the lines of following mandates of the official church or reflecting on the lives of the saints, the vast majority of whom were ordained or consecrated men and women whose lives had little to do with the realities of living out discipleship in 21st Century America.  I sometimes stand in the back of church and view the heads of all the members of the assembly.  While the officially delegated homilist may be doing his, or in a few cases her,best, I realize that there are much better homilies in all those heads, in the lives of those ordinary people meeting God in their ordinary lives.  The problem is that our church has almost no venues or processes for people to become conscious of their own spirituality and then to share that with others like themselves.  Out of that sharing comes an awareness of the Spirit working in and through any assembly to make real the Good News announced by Jesus.  Until we are comfortable doing that, I think that our technical planning and organizational skills will be for naught.

I have been changed by such simple sharing and I have experienced groups transformed into groups that truly pray and think together.  Our planning must begin and end in prayer...there is no doubt in my mind about this.  You can follow this link to get more information about faith sharing:  what it is and how to do it.

Until the experts and leaders model this faith sharing, I think we will fall short.  What do you think?

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Thanks for the post, Bill.  For both regular council meetings and for annual planning and budgeting sessions I have found the time members spend in prayer together, sharing their faith, and celebrating Eucharist as a group, to be an important foundation and an important integrating dynamic for advisory councils.  It is amazing how quickly councils revert to "a quick prayer" to start, not realizing the benefits that flow from time spent sharing faith.  One way I have found to prevent "staleness" is to use the scripture readings for the upcoming Sunday as a way of preparing but also of helping council members connect their service on the council with their discipleship as a member of the worshiping community.

Since this forum is about networking as well as promoting best practices, I can recommend the websites of two of our forum participants: Fr Joe Healey at SmallChristianCommunities.org and Deirdre Trabert Malacrea at RENEW International both of which provide resources and training in the area of faith sharing. 

I will be in the USA in Fall, 2012 and would be glad to discuss our experience of faith sharing and Bible Reflection in the weekly meetings of our Small Christian Communities (SCCs) here in Eastern Africa.. Here is a secton from an article I just finished:  "Lectionary-based Catholics.  An important pastoral challenge is to help people to be lectionary-based Catholics. Thousands of lectionary-based SCCs in Eastern Africa meet in the middle of the week to reflect on the Gospel of the following Sunday following the three-year lectionary cycle. Some community of religious Sisters and other groups meet together daily, especially in the evening, to read and reflect on the Scripture Readings of the following day. American theologian Father Tom Reese, SJ states emphatically: “Lectionary-based Catholics can change the world.” In other words, Catholics who seriously reflect on scripture and its application to our lives can transform themselves and their world."

Fr. Joe, your work sounds very important, not just for East Africa but for all of us wherever we live. My own personal spiritual practice is based on the lectionary. I find that daily readings, reflections and prayer at the beginning of my day bring me into contact with whatever themes I seem to be needful of from the teachings of Jesus. No matter how often I have read or heard a passage, it always seems that I find something new and relevant to my current reality. I think this can easily "scale up" as they say to a group or parish or even an entire church. It is so simple and yet I agree that it can change the church. If every practice with which we are familiar and comfortable were stripped away from the Church and we could only do two things, I think they would be prayerful and thoughtful reading of scripture and Eucharist. Everything else would be as it should if only we could attend to these two.

Thanks, Bill. This Fall when I get to the USA I will be working on an article tentatively entitled: “Ten Good Reasons for Being a Lectionary–based Catholic (and ideally belong to a Lectionary-based Small Christian Community That Meets Weekly).” A lot of my inspiration comes from the writings of Father Tom Reese, SJ. I will keep everyone posted.

 

In reference to finding new things in Scripture Readings, my new book on SCCs that is available as an Ebook on the SCCs Website (http://www.smallchristiancommunities.org/ebooks.html) has this example on page 162 under Topics of Role Plays on Small Christian Communities:

 

“No, This is the First Time You are Reading This Gospel.” A SCC member reads a particular Gospel text – either the Gospel of the following Sunday or a well-known story or teaching in the New Testament. We ask the SCC workshop participants if they have ever heard or read this scripture text before. Some answers are: “Yes, I have read this passage many times.” “We use this Gospel in the Sunday readings. “This is a common text in our religious education classes and talks.” Then we answer: No, This is the First Time You are Reading This Gospel.” This demonstration reminds the SCC members that they are hearing/reading this Gospel (or any other Bible text) – for the first time. Not because the story is new, but the context, the local situation (today, now, at this moment as we are personally involved) is new.

 

This demonstration can include different creative ways of reading and reflecting on the Bible.[1]One way is to read the Gospel slowly and meditatively using the Ignatian "composition of time and place." Another is a communal reading of the Bible


[1] After participating in over 1000 weekly meetings of SCCs around the world in the last 35 years I have seen three styles:

1.The leaders and other SCC participants merely reread, retell or rephrase the actual scripture reading.

2.The leaders and other SCC participants explain the meaning of the actual scripture reading; historical background, exegesis of the text, etc. – a bible study approach.

3.The ideal: The leaders and other SCC participants connect the actual scripture reading to our daily lives, our lived reality.

 

Thanks for these two good resources. I see that both have jumped in on this conversation. I have also checke dout the resources you pointed us to. They are very helpful. It is always good to be reminded of resources that I may hve forgotten about - RENEW - and new ones like Fr. Joe that I have now discovered.

Bill, very insightful post from your lived experience. Faith sharing grounded in the scriptures is an extremely meaningful way for all types of parish ministry groups, committees, and staff to "get on the same page" spiritually both before and between formal meetings. As Michael mentioned, RENEW International is dedicated to fostering the vision of the parish as a "community of communities" per Pope John Paul II, and small communities as settings in which people encounter God and connect faith to daily life. I would like to suggest to interested forum members that they can consider two resources for this endeavor. Sowing Seeds offers tips for how to lead small group faith sharing. And PrayerTime provides the weekly Sunday Gospel readings in a format conducive to faith sharing.

Fr. Joe, best wishes to you on your great work with SCCs in Africa. Hope you can visit your friends at RENEW when you are back stateside.

Thank you, Deirdre. "'Faith sharing grounded in the scriptures' is one of our emphases in Eastern Africa right now and one of the choices in the future in the POLL on our SCCs Website. Your description of RENEW is "perfect'. Sister Terri has invited me to visit you in Plainfield this Fall for a 'SCCs conversation and sharing.'. I will be based at my brother Tom Healey's home in New Vernon.. Perhaps Michael Brough can join me on the visit."

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