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Discernment at General ConventionBy Dave Scheider
How do we know if the decisions we make are from God or some other source? Seems to me that is the key question of General Convention that underlies each vote and discussion. As we make decisions that will affect our beloved Church how will we know if God’s will is being done?
Monthly I sit with a peer group of spiritual directors. We practice prayerful listening to each other while also trying to keep our focus on the Spirit. As we help each other discern the influences of our lives I sometimes wonder who am I that I should have a role. I look at my behavior, habits and personal decisions and confess that I am a badly calibrated spiritual instrument. Questions of doubt interrupt my ability to focus. If you also have doubts about your ability to discern the path of freedom toward which God calls our Church, perhaps these thoughts might help a bit.
In “Spiritual Community as Intercessory Prayer,” Rose Mary Dougherty concludes that the key trait of a spiritual community is that it is contemplative. In other words, a truly spiritual community is one that “introduces us to the very heart of our oneness with God.” In the crucible of entering into close relationship with God, we become inflamed with love, joy, and solidarity with all of God’s children, especially those who suffer. She says that if a community does not do that then it is “not a spiritual community: it is a narcissistic gathering.” For Dougherty, a true church has a love that expands to “embrace all of humanity.” As poorly calibrated as I am in matters spiritual, I can tell if my decisions move me toward those who suffer. We know we are moving in the same direction with Jesus when no one is left out of God’s loving care by the policies we create or the actions we take as a group.
Another helpful tip for discernment comes from the Rule of St Benedict. In the heart of this ancient monastic rule are guidelines for running a chapter meeting. This wisdom predates by many centuries Roberts Rule of Order. Benedict requires the chapter to always give voice to the newest members of the community. I love this principle that those on the margins of any community are given opportunity to tell the senior members what they see as they stand on the edge or boundary line of the group. At the Seminary of the Southwest, one of our key values is that of respect. We believe that everyone in the community has a unique perspective that if shared could give us the hoped for word of transformation. To ensure that respect flows through all of our community, we have the Conversation Covenant. In that covenant we agree to speak up with the perspective we have in the hopes it may help another. And then we agree to listen with the same hopeful attention to see if the Word of God might appear from someone else, regardless of position in the hierarchy.
If you wonder which direction to choose on thorny issues, I hope these questions help you discern. Will the decision draw us closer to those who suffer in this world? And are there any groups of members of our Church whose stories we have not heard that need to be considered before we can make an informed decision?
Dave Scheider currently serves as the Director of the Center and oversees three of the seminary’s graduate programs that are designed for laity and clergy who have specialized callings to carry on the work of the church in counseling, chaplaincy, and spiritual formation. These programs meet in the evenings and on Saturdays. Before coming to the seminary, Father Scheider served as a U.S. Army chaplain for 25 years.
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