One of my greatest appreciations of the synodal process was because of the significant contrast I saw between it and the Voice referendum on the same weekend. I personally saw the failed referendum as a missed opportunity to go some way to recognising in our national constitution our First Peoples. There is some irony in the fact that of the only two resolutions voted down at the local Diocesan Synod – in fact on the same day as the referendum – was one in relation to the way First Nations Peoples are recognised. In the case of the referendum, though, that was seemingly the end of the process.
In the case of the Synod, there was an ability to reflect on the feedback received and to then recast the resolution with amended wording. The new resolution was approved the following day. It is a shame the referendum could not encompass a similar iterative process.
The contrast between a process that was highly political and one where we aimed for the Holy Spirit to be the prime motivator and animator was significant. The message for me was that we humans are more effective, more inclusive, more conciliatory when we are big enough to seek guidance from God to help us and when we seek to hear the voice of God through other people, even if their views differ from our own.
I came away from the Synod determined to seek to use the spiritual conversation process in the various ministry roles I am involved in, principally at St Luke’s Catholic Faith Community, Marsden Park. We are blessed at St Luke’s to already have people on our pastoral leadership group, pastoral council and in ministry roles who operate in a synodal manner. We have journeyed together as a small worshipping community which started five-and-a-half years ago with 150 people attending one Mass each Sunday to one with more than 600 people attending two Masses per weekend.
I was encouraged that when I shared many of the things we do at St Luke’s with the people at my table during the Synod, they often affirmed that we were already doing some of the things the Synod was seeking to achieve.
I saw similarity between commencing a new Catholic faith community and launching into a Synodal process. In both cases, it was essentially about starting with a blank sheet. Of course, each scenario started with the core aspects of our faith. But there was a degree of freedom to discern some of the unique aspects of how the faith would be lived out in each context.
Starting with the voice of the People of God was vital in both cases. Valuing a sense of welcome, inclusion, diversity and each person’s gifts and talents was also vital. In the case of St Luke’s, our best innovations have come not from leaders but from listening to the people.
I have been on a journey to learn how to listen more effectively. I worked for a long time in corporate settings where position and power were often overused and even abused. Having been formed for my role as a deacon, in part, through CPE (clinical pastoral education) in a hospital chaplaincy setting, I learned for the first time in my life how to truly listen to another person. To listen with an ear for the emotion they are seeking to communicate. This allowed me to value the gift of listening in ministry and to also see that listening could help make me a better leader, whether in corporate, not-for-profit or church settings.
Like the synod process, I’m still on that journey and some days I feel like I’m back to square one with my listening skills. But a process like the Synod strongly reinforced to me the importance of listening not just when ministering to those wounded by the experiences of life, but also for decision making.
I was also grateful that the presence of my vocation of deacon was valued at the Synod. Unlike the national plenary and international synod, this gathering had a good representation of deacons to allow their voice to included along with priests, religious and lay people of the Church.
I walked away from the Synod gathering hopeful that we had taken some positive steps forward in helping the Catholic Church to be the best version it could be in this time and place. I look forward to the Church continuing to use a prayerful, listening model of decision-making that could become our new normal in the diocese, each ministry and each parish.
Deacon Tony Hoban is the Pastoral director of St Luke’s Parochial District at Marsden Park.
The Diocesan Synod Report will be released on 1 December 2023. The report will include a summary of the Synod and its outcomes. For future updates, visit the Synod website: https://parracatholic.org/synod2023/