Experiencing a deep and authentic unity
The following reflection is from the Sisters of Providence General Council: Sister Denise Wilkinson, Sister Lisa Stallings, Sister Jenny Howard, Sister Dawn Tomaszewski, and Sister Mary Beth Klingel.
The April 2012 announcement of the Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) has been widely covered in the national media, evoking a variety of responses from many persons.
True to its commitment to shared leadership and communal discernment in reaching decisions, the presidency of LCWR had been cautious in responding until it could consult with its members during the recent August LCWR National Assembly.
All of us on our leadership team participated in this assembly. During this past week, we took some time to process what we had experienced during these important days. We’d like to share some of our experience with you.
A bit of background information: LCWR organizes itself into several regions across the U.S. to facilitate relationship building and decision making across the large organization. The Sisters of Providence belong to Region 7 (Indiana and Michigan). Regions ordinarily meet twice a year – autumn and spring. To prepare for this important National Assembly, regions gathered in June or July, as well.
The special pre-assembly meetings across the U.S. allowed the national board and presidency of LCWR to get a sense of how members wanted to move forward in terms of responding to the assessment.
At the August assembly, the LCWR leadership presented us with a list of common values that had emerged in each of the 15 regions summer meetings. These values included a desire to act from our best selves; to proceed in a spirit of shared dialogue based on communal contemplative prayer and a commitment to speak for the authenticity of the way we live as apostolic women religious.
During the days of the assembly, all five of us experienced a deep and authentic unity among the more than 900 women religious present. Sitting at different tables, we each experienced prayer and table conversations marked by a deep level of trust and openness. None of us experienced any sense of fear or, on the other hand, bravado among table members or in the assembly as a whole.
Sharing at microphones was candid, respectful, and thoughtful. The sharing demonstrated again and again unanimity of thought and feeling among the members. A palpable peacefulness emanated from the entire assembly and from individual members.
Before and during the National Assembly, we received an outpouring of love and support from many of our associates, friends, alums and benefactors. On each of more than 100 tables in the assembly meeting room, we found 20-30 letters of support from people across the country. What all the support made abundantly clear to us is that this assessment has touched the hearts of the faithful who are counting on us to find a way to open up dialogue in our Church and assist in a reconsideration of the role of women in our Church.
Barbara Marx Hubbard, in her keynote address, expressed her belief that US women religious are a “perfect seedbed” for furthering the reign of God. She named the following characteristics of women religious that convince her that our lifestyle holds promise for the “good of the whole:”
- deep gospel living;
- mystical presencing;
- faithfulness and responsiveness to unmet needs;
- solidarity with Earth;
- building of community;
- risk-taking for the sake of mission;
- social entrepreneurship;
- practice of dialogue and discernment;
- ability to speak truth to power;
- commitment to seeking “the more.”
We left the meeting hopeful and justifiably proud to be part of this gathering of women religious. Each of us sensed the tangible presence of God throughout the meeting days. We were buoyed up by the knowledge of being held in prayer by our sisters, associates, friends, and many others.
A special thank you to all who organized and participated in prayer vigils held during the days of LCWR’s meetings.
For additional information about the assembly, read the LCWR Aug. 13 press release.