It began in 2012. Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki called together a group of people from throughout the archdiocese to serve as an Archdiocesan Synod Preparatory Commission.” Their mission was to determine whether the time was right for an archdiocesan synod. Their advice to the archbishop: It was.
On Jan. 8, 2013, Archbishop Listecki issued a pastoral letter, “Who Do You Say I Am?”, which he concluded
by reiterating the pastoral priorities he established for the archdiocese when he became archbishop: Catholic identity (“Who we are”), evangelization (“What we do”) and stewardship (“How we do it”).
In an interview with the Catholic Herald following promulgation of the pastoral, he noted, “I wrote this pastoral letter for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee; this is where we are; this is what we need to address. I did so with an eye toward the possibility of an archdiocesan synod.”
That possibility, called for by the archbishop on May 19, 2013, becomes reality June 7-8 – Pentecost
weekend – when more than 500 delegates and observers will participate in the Archdiocesan Synod at the Cousins Center. It is the first archdiocesan synod since 1987.
By design, the synod is being held on Pentecost weekend, according to Rich Harter, director of evangelization for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
“Archbishop Listecki has said that for us this will be a New Pentecost,” Harter said. “For us, Pentecost is the theme that is running through it all, and appropriately so, as this is a moment in our church when we are saying the Spirit is moving, we’re listening, we’re discerning, and coming out of that will be a number of key priorities in the eight mission areas.”
Each of the mission areas falls under one of the pastoral priorities: liturgy and cultural diversity are linked to Catholic identity; evangelization, formation, Catholic Social Teaching and marriage and family are within the realm of evangelization; and stewardship and leadership are addressed under stewardship.
Challenges and initiatives
Each mission area is accompanied by a challenge (see accompanying list). While the Archdiocesan Synod Preparatory Commission developed the mission areas, the challenges surfaced in the parish sessions, according to Randy Nohl, chairman of the Archdiocesan Synod Preparatory Commission.
“If we’re going to be a missionary church, if we’re going to be growing in discipleship, what are the areas we have to focus on? There were eight areas that we named; background papers written and focused on at district gatherings,” he said. “The challenges and the mission areas went hand in hand.”
Harter added that the development of the mission areas was not random.
“One of the things we’ve worked really hard on through the process – and the synod will reinforce that again – all of these eight areas, all of the outcomes, are interconnected under the banner of the church, as missionary disciples who are living out their Catholic identity, evangelization and stewardship. All of the topical areas of the synod are part of a unifying vision,” he said. ”To me that’s going to be the biggest challenge for us to articulate very clearly and compellingly the vision that holds all of us together.”
From discussion to discipleship
The “synod event” and “synod experience,” as Harter terms it, is the culmination of a process rooted in the work of the preparatory commission, the writing of the archbishop’s pastoral letter, the discussions of that letter held in fall 2013, and district gatherings held earlier this year. But both he and Randy Noll, chairman of the Archdiocesan Synod Preparatory Commission, emphasized that what happens after the synod is critical to the future of the church in southeastern Wisconsin.
“When post-synod implementation happens, we want to see tangible impacts for people individually, in their own spiritual lives, for parishes as the entities where the faith is expressed on the local level, and the archdiocese as a whole with the central offices and key issues throughout the archdiocese that we’ll be pursuing in common,” Harter said.
Noll agreed about the threefold impact, but added that “Intentional discipleship” has been a common theme throughout the process.
“What does that mean? I intentionally choose to live out my faith and to follow Christ. How do I do that? I am hoping the synod gives some direction,” he said, noting that the call as Catholics, as well as much of the work of the synod, is based on Matthew 28:19: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…”
Harter added, “Intentional discipleship implies we’re on mission, we’re going forth, and that we do that individually, but we also do that corporately, whether that is a parish or as a universal church.”
He hopes the delegates leave the synod “on fire and excited,” that they become “evangelists of their experience.”
“The onus is going to be on the post-synod implementation where we’re going to need to tell the story of the synod – what it was like, what happened there, what were the outcomes,” Harter said. “Spread the experience so that people can get a sense of it.”
Noll noted that synod delegates are already involved in leadership roles in their parishes and the various entities they represent. As such, they will be key in implementing the work of the synod.
“How do we work with them to help carry on the pastoral priorities? I see (the synod process) as not just setting the priorities, but part of the implementation is, ‘Here’s a process to help you do that,’” he said, adding as parishes decide on which priority or priorities they will focus first, the archdiocesan offices will help guide them.
Harter said that at the district sessions, he witnessed people being excited about their Catholic faith – excitement he expects will be evident during the synod.
“When people talk about the synod, they realize this is something big, this is something important, this is a time with some gravitas to it in the sense that they’re realizing they’re talking about pastoral priorities for the future of the church,” he said. “And they realize that they, in some shape or form, will be part of that direction, and that gives them some excitement and hope.”
Harter said that the process – from the parish sessions to the district gatherings to the synod event –
has been an opportunity for Catholics to express “their love for their faith and to share that with others.”
“That inspires me and gives me hope and also challenges me to think about how we can marshal these energies and maintain them – post-synod – and really let our faith and the expression of it grow and thrive,” he said.
Neither Noll nor Harter will predict outcomes for the synod.
“That’s why we’re asking them to do this in a very careful, spiritual way, but also we’re trying to, in the small groups, to capture some consensus as to why are these the most important, why do you think these are top initiatives, because the why is maybe as important, or more important, than the what,” Harter said.
The “why” behind the importance of the initiatives ranked highest by the delegates will be conveyed to Archbishop Listecki, who plans to issue a synodal declaration during September, in which he will outline an archdiocesan vision for the next 10-15 years.
“We’ll pass on to him these underlying ‘why’ values so that he gets a sense of the faithful. A large measure of why that’s more important than the initiative itself is because that’s the spirit people want to see us move in – it sets a direction,” Harter said.
While nearly two years has been devoted to planning the synod, Noll said what has been accomplished doesn’t end when the event itself ends.
“The implementation is so important. These (challenges and initiatives) are all important; they wouldn’t have made it to this level if they weren’t. They provide the broader picture, giving the direction,” he said. “When we have a better idea if this is the direction we want to go in, then we can say, ‘OK, now how do we make that happen?’”