NCCL Leadership Pivoting to Pope Francis’ Call: A Synodal Church that listens, learns and partners in mission

Denise UtterBlog, NCCL Board of Directors

by John Gaffney, NCCL Board of Directors

Pope Francis, in 2015, outlined his vision for a church that is “synodal” at every level.  “The journey of synodality is the journey that God wants from his church in the third millennium,” the Pope said on Oct. 17.  “A synodal church is a listening church, aware that listening is more than hearing.  It is a reciprocal listening in which each one has something to learn.”  NCCL has taken the mantle of this vision expressed by Pope Francis and entered into a reflective time on our past, present, and future in order to strengthen the organization in all areas of its mission.  

The Greek roots of the word “synod” translate as “walking together.” Already before our current health crisis, we have all felt the urgency of walking together as ministers. Now, that need is even greater. COVID-19 has made it necessary to cancel NCCL’s 2020 Convocation. It does not change NCCL’s commitment to foster an environment where all catechetical and evangelization ministers can walk together and listen to one another, even if we cannot physically gather. 

The information shared by close to 1,000 NCCL current and past members, through our recent survey, is a large step forward in fine-tuning our mission as we navigate the landscape in evangelization and catechetical ministry throughout the country.  Our current structures may not be sufficient these days to meet the many and varied needs of parish catechetical leaders as well as diocesan staff and directors.  Dioceses and parishes are challenged by severe budget cuts resulting in a lack of money available for membership and travel to conferences – and this challenge is even more obvious due to the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, colleagues who now find themselves wearing two or three hats in their ministry assignment have little time to share their talents and time to serve on committees, or even post wisdom or questions in the online forums.  

And yet there is great hope.  As an NCCL Board, we have been grateful for the many ways that you, our colleagues, have reached out to us.  We are inspired as we listen and learn from leaders in parishes and dioceses as they share how they lean into the challenges found today.  Your bright spot stories reveal 

  • transformative work in forming and equipping disciples for mission, 
  • accompanying families of all sizes and shapes towards an encounter with Christ, 
  • proclaiming the Gospel in new ways for those who live in multireligious homes and multicultural communities, 
  • allowing people to ‘see’ life in a different context through a sacramental sense.  

This form of storytelling, one that is grounded in the context we find ourselves as Christ’s ambassadors and in hope, is powerful.  Pope Francis tells the Church and all of us at NCCL that our world needs witnesses to that vision of community, participation, solidarity and joint responsibility.  

We continue to seek relationship with one another, whether or not one is a member of NCCL.

We continue to tell our story in a way that seeks belonging in the midst of recognizing vulnerability and brokenness.

We continue partnering with those whose mission complements that of NCCL and inviting them into a dynamic relationship. 

So, in the midst of physical isolation from one another, let’s be intentional about not emotionally distancing ourselves from one another.  Let’s take the NCCL Challenge: have a conversation, or write a note, perhaps handwritten, to one colleague 

  1. thanking her or him for one’s ministry, 
  2. praying for her or his intentions, 
  3. and asking what is one specific task or idea that NCCL, this national community of storytellers, can do to help her or him in their ministry, and/or affirm them as a minister in these difficult times.

Pope Francis reminds us of the true nature of authority and power, “We must never forget: for the disciples of Jesus — yesterday, today and forever — the only authority is the authority of service; the only power is the power of the cross.” During the remainder of this Lenten season, let NCCL leadership keep in mind the vision of the Last Supper: our leadership is foremost a ministry of service.