47 years ago many of us were not even born, or we were a heckuva lot younger. It was also a transition time in our universal Church since it was four years after the conclusion of the Vatican II Council in 1965. But 1969 was the last time our archdiocese came together in a special meeting, called a synod, to dialogue on paradigm-shift changes as to how the archdiocese was to better function in order to serve the needs of believers in our local church of Detroit.
The weekend of Nov. 18th – 20th, 2016 was an opportunity for nearly 360 people represented from all 222 parishes in the Archdiocese of Detroit (AOD) to gather once again at another synod, almost fifty years later, which was the 11th overall in the AOD’s history, established back in 1833. To kick off the event synod members processed from the Westin Hotel in Detroit down the block to St. Aloysius Church for Mass where bishops, priests, and lay people recited an Oath of Fidelity, professed the Nicene Creed, and put their hand on the Book of the Gospels. Guided by the Holy Spirit and under the leadership of our shepherd, Archbishop Vigernon, a few hundred people, plus expert advisors and observers came together to intensely discuss and deliberate on four key topics: 1). Individuals, 2). Families, 3). Parishes, and 4). AOD Central Services (the day-to-day operations of the archdiocese in the downtown office). 46 propositions were laid out among the four topics. Then table discussions ensued to decide by a consensus which was the best proposition(s) for each table. Results were tallied, and then all would reconvene in the large ballroom to discuss the results of each proposition. Random spokespeople from some of the tables would share their insights in front of everyone which included the reasons why certain propositions were chosen over others.
Three people from our parish were represented. Dcn. Dennis Crimmins, Rebecca Sweet, and I (Fr. Jeff) were blessed to be involved in the three-day event. Though there was a pledge of confidentiality given at our tables, I am able to share some of the themes drawn out from our weekend as well as some points that Abp. Vigneron mentioned in his homilies and synod remarks to focus on the future of the AOD. There was a heavy emphasis on evangelization as well as on other themes like hospitality, communication, resources, overcoming racism, an encounter and relationship with Jesus Christ, Catholic Schools, among others. In one of his comments, the archbishop said, “the wounds of shame (e.g. communal or personal sin, like racism) can become the wounds of glory.” He asked the synod members to view the small group tables as a sign of the Eucharistic table. He went on to talk about changing the very DNA of how our local church functions. In addition, the archbishop spoke about evangelization being personal and mentioned that our participation in the work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery. He also wants us to be aware of and involved in the “movements” of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Third Order Franciscans), for example.
A few statistics have already been published in a three-part, “Synod 16 Edition” by the Michigan Catholic which gave us helpful feedback on some of the topics. In terms of individuals and families, Saturday’s session asked members to identify one of two specific projects for Archdiocesan Central Services to pursue. Out of forty-six tables who cast votes, 56.5% (26 votes) voted for the proposition that stated: “Envision and develop a plan for ongoing human and spiritual formation for all stages of life (e.g. children, youth, adults and seniors).” 43.5% (20 votes) were cast for the proposition, “Envision and develop processes for sacramental preparation, and for marriage preparation in particular, modeled after the practices and phases of the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA), and focusing of conversion to a life of missionary discipleship, catechesis on the sacrament, small group dynamics, mentoring and ongoing formation.”
In terms of the topic on parishes, synod members were asked to come up with a proposition from each of the sub categories: Parish Culture, Parish Functions (Pray, Invite, Connect, Mentor, Send), and Parish Leadership. In Parish Culture, 48.9% (22.5 votes) agreed with the proposition, “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.” On the topic of Parish Functions, 26% (12 votes) went with the proposition, “Equip, empower, and support individuals and families in mission (e.g. evangelization, social and economic transformation, and spiritual and corporal works of mercy).” In Parish Leadership 39.2% (18 votes) supported the proposition, “Establish pastoral leadership teams as a normative practice, where team members develop shared responsibility ad 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.”
It was also mentioned by Abp. Vigneron and Cardinal Maida about how well we all wish Bp. Byrnes (now Abp. Byrnes) in his new endeavor to serve the people on the island of Guam in the south Pacific knowing the major leadership role he played in preparing us for this synod over the past two years. To sum it up, Abp. Vigneron reiterated the call for all of us to be a band of joyful missionary disciples! The archbishop did say that once all of the feedback has been compiled, and he has reflected on what has been shared, he will have a document published, what he called, an “account” that will be made public to the people of the archdiocese by Pentecost (June 3rd, 2017) to set a new course of direction for the AOD.
It was truly a blessing to see people collaborate well at their small tables knowing that every voice was heard. There was also a sense of bold confidence, unity and direction that came out of this weekend, which I am very excited about… something to look forward to in the coming months and years… Stay tuned, keep praying to the Holy Spirit, and discover how you can make your mark in becoming a joyful missionary disciple in our Church. In conclusion, the archbishop said, “the synod is God’s gift.” It was a gift, and I’m quite confident it will be a gift that will keep on giving for the next 50 years +/-. There is much to be thankful for, especially for the gift of synod 2016. Happy Thanksgiving!
Guided and Inspired by The Holy Spirit,