Update from St. Louis at the LCWR
This morning I attended the pre-meeting, “Innovative Best Practice Forum” prior to the opening of the LCWR conference. Giving Voice led off this session by talking about the benefit and processes of peer convened and peer led groups for younger members of religious communities. They spoke of the importance of having a “holding pen” for their struggles, noting that often sisters who are not their age-peers move too quickly to try to solve their problems, which is not always helpful. Through their peer experience, they cultivate mutuality and explore issues over time in a deeper way. They find these experiences together with peer led groups help them become more skilled at seeking more non-peer group mutuality, claiming their place and voice in congregational decision-making processes. One panel member described her experiences at Giving Voice as a way to “harvest hope with my peers.”
Two religious communities, one from the Sisters of Divine Providence and the other, our Concordia Sisters of St. Joseph, spoke about their models of restructuring governance. Both groups emphasized involvement of sisters in “conversation circles” to advise the congregational leadership in more significant ways than past leadership models.
Sr. Sharon Casey spoke about her Dominican group’s process in moving towards covenant relationship with another community. With consultation from Sr. Amy Hereford, CSJ- Carondelet St. Louis, they have discerned their next steps for their congregation. She noted that they found Amy’s article, “Options for Small Aging Communities” and articles by Ted Dunn to be very helpful. Then another community further along in the covenant process described how they are entering into a gradual process of building trust and understanding with another religious community to gradually assume responsibility for care for aging members, manage fiscal and legal affairs, and carry out their legacy through sponsored ministries and distribution of assets. She noted that this covenant relationship allowed them to maintain their identity and international connections and plan their legacy into the future. It is a gradual process and developing relationship.
After a brief break, attendees went to small table conversations to learn about more innovative best practices. I attended the Rochester SSJ session on Communal Discernment. Srs. Mary Lou Mitchell and Eileen Daly spoke about their experience with using communal discernment to make a major decision about health care for their senior sisters. The process and involvement of all the sisters was very profound and moving. Using an Ignatian model based on the 30 day exercises and the Sisters of St. Joseph traditions of sharing of the heart and order of the house, the community moved to a decision that felt right for them. Sr. Eileen noted that “going forward we would probably use a process like this for all major decisions.” It truly was an example of “Leadership of the Membership.” Sr. Mary Lou commented that they will “continue to deepen our communal discernment skills, slowing down, not reacting, and taking the time to make the decision.”
It was a great morning. This afternoon is rather loosely scheduled, with the opening prayer service this evening. I’ll add pictures when I get home tonight.