General Chapter 2011
Our General Chapter ended just about four weeks ago. The past weeks have given me the opportunity to reflect on the experience and outcomes of our time together and what I’d like to share with all of you, our partners in mission.
All of my reflections center on a deep sense of gratitude, i.e., thankfulness for the people, the process and the outcomes. Once again, Providence provided; Providence opened the path for us to follow.
First the people who evoke on-going feelings of gratitude:
One hundred and seventy-six SPs were chapter delegates; many others were contributors, observers and pray-ers. The energy, passion for the mission and trust in Providence evidenced itself in each and all – no matter the age, experiences of life and mission, years as an SP. From eldest to newest, enthusiasm for discovering the path marked out for us by Providence showed itself over and over! Indeed, we are ready to “break boundaries and create hope” in whatever way God opens for us!
A special cause of joy was the presence of many of our Providence Associates during our first days of Chapter. These dedicated women and men who share our charism and mission broadened and deepened the dialogue, the celebrations, the quality of our life together. They contributed to the processes, added their presence and fidelity to our prayer and liturgies, and delighted us with a wonderful social one evening! They are gift – pure and simple.
Second the process for which I am grateful:
Over the past few years, the SPs have committed ourselves to the practice of contemplative dialogue as a way of being with one another in moments of decision-making, stress or disagreement.
The process is simple to describe and difficult to adhere to for short or long periods of time. It includes these practices: slowing the pace of conversation to allow each speaker the time to fully and honestly express herself while listeners commit to listening and not planning a response; slowing the pace also entails allowing silence after each speaker so that the listeners have time to reflect on what they’ve heard; bringing a sense of curiosity to the conversation – asking questions of curiosity in an attempt to understand content and feelings of the speaker’s viewpoint; committing to staying in the now by thoughting not felting, i.e., listening with new ears to persons one knows well (or thinks one knows well) and has feelings about based on past encounters.
The entire process rests on periods of shared contemplative quiet. Discussions, decision times, elections all began with a sustained time of contemplative prayer. Often the facilitators, in the midst of one process or another, would call us “to the quiet.” It was remarkable to experience how many times the sharing of the silence brought us to a place of clarity and agreement that our conversations hadn’t been able to achieve. (I wish the US Congress could adopt the practice.)
The outcomes prompt my thankfulness because the Chapter commitments themselves and the sisters elected to leadership promise an exciting and fruitful journey these next five years.
Here is our first commitment:
“Perfect abandonment of ourselves in all things for the sake of the future requires great courage … but we ought to aspire to it.” Saint Mother Theodore Guerin
To free ourselves to better respond to urgent global issues, especially those impacting women and Earth:
- We will engage in a Congregation-wide assessment of all of our ministries to determine their sustainability and effectiveness as lived expressions of love, mercy and justice.
- We will create new forms of collaboration with Providence Associates and other partners for the mission.
- We will commit to those ministries which best respond to the signs of the times and be realistically sustained.
- We will support one another as we implement the difficult decisions ahead in a just and loving way.
As daughters of Mother Theodore, we do all of this grounded in the Gospel, our vows, prayer and contemplative dialogue.
Our second commitment builds on the first and will provide us with a means of making the assessment of what we own and administer.
We, the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, Indiana, commit ourselves to develop a Land Ethic using a Congregation-wide consultation process over the next two years. This Land Ethic will guide our decision-making with regard to the use of our lands now and into the future.
Two additional commitments signal a deeper commitment to collaboration and partnership in carrying out the mission of the Congregation. We revised a portion of our Constitution’s Complementary Document regarding the role of our Providence Associates in the life and mission of the Sisters of Providence.
We also revised the wording of our traditional Prayer of Reunion. This prayer originated with at the very beginning of the Congregation in Ruille-sur-Loir, France — from which Mother Theodore and her companions came. Its purpose was to unite all the sisters — no matter how distant they may be from one another. We have prayed the reunion daily throughout our entire history.
Because of our realization that God calls many persons to the mission of Providence, instead of praying “we unite with all our sisters wherever they may be,” we will pray “we unite with all who share the charism of Providence, wherever they may be …. ” The word-change is simple; the shift in awareness and conviction is profound.
Finally, I rejoice and give thanks for those Sisters of Providence elected as General Councilors and for my own re-election as General Superior. (You can read more about the five of us here.)
All Sisters of Providence count on your continued interest, support and presence with us as we — together — journey on the paths of Providence! We are deeply grateful for your presence and participation in the mission!
Count on our friendship and prayer!
Sister Denise Wilkinson, SP