With option by option, one option is considered at a time: each person spends time in silent reflection naming the negatives and positives about that particular option, after which the whole group shares. Then time is spent in silence for individuals to prayerfully reflect on the next option, followed by sharing in the whole group. When all options have been weighed, the group senses what common direction is evolving.
Choose Direction Exploration has ended. The facilitator may send up a trial balloon that articulates where the Holy Spirit seems to be leading. Persons may be asked to indicate their level of acceptance of the trial balloon through a straw poll. If some are signifying levels 3, 2, or 1, more time is usually taken to respond to questions and concerns and possibly modify the option, direction, or timetable.
Rest with the Decision Resting allows time for the decision to lie near the heart in a spirit of prayer to determine whether it brings primarily feelings of consolation a sense of peace and movement toward God or desolation distress and movement away from God. A group may decide to allow their decision to stand for a period of time before formally voting on and implementing it. If Consensus Is Not Reached Consensus, as used in this paper, does not mean that the outcome is a unanimous vote, that the result is everyones first choice, or that everyone agrees one hundred percent.
Sometimes a group does not reach consensus in the time allowed. Several options may be considered: identify issues about which agreement has been reached identify issues that remain to be resolved at a later time identify possible steps for further exploration, perhaps by repeating some of the discernment process appoint a smaller group or person to make the decision vote by majority rule drop the matter. Communal Discernment and Assemblies Large Assemblies Communal discernment processes can be used in large assemblies, but they will take a different form from that with smaller groups.
Learning can be gleaned from a number of Christian bodies that have been using structured processes of communal discernment. Recently, the World Council of Churches approved the use of a consensus-seeking process to make decisions, partly in response to the pressing call from Orthodox member churches for a process that is less likely to violate their consciences as a numerical minority in the council.
Possible Design for Assemblies Based on experiences from these faith communities, Danny Morris and Charles Olsen have designed the following model that could be used with larger assemblies. The process may range over several meetings. Commissioners are trained in the dynamics and practices of discernment in small groups at the beginning of the meeting. Times for covenants of silence in solitude are arranged within each group so that all are able to reflect, listen, and pray. Opening worship highlights the themes of vision, waiting, openness, and calling. Framing and Grounding: The agenda-planning team frames the issue to be discerned in plenary and offers a concise statement of a preliminary guiding principle based on criteria to which the groups considerations must be faithful.
Then small groups meet to build community, secure clarity on the issues, and possibly revise the guiding principle. Shedding: Members of the small groups spend time in silent reflection to name the investments, preconceived notions, or passions each brings to the issue and to consider how to release them. The small group concludes with prayer, and next offers a prayer during the assemblys worship as part of confession and repentance. Rooting: When the assembly reconvenes in plenary, the revised guiding principle is offered for endorsement or reworking.
A few respected biblical scholars, theologians, and historians root those assembled in their faith tradition by offering biblical, theological, and historical connections with the issue. Listening: The assembly then hears accounts from individuals, congregations, or traditions.
Discernment as a Tool for Decision-Making
Small groups meet to discuss the input and continue the exploration. A time of silence is incorporated for listening to the Spirit. Exploring: After a break, the small groups explore various paths or options, first with individual reflection and then as a group.
The group leaders draw together a cluster of two to five potential paths, name them, and give them to the agenda team. The agenda team consolidates them into two to five options for consideration. This time concludes with extended prayer. Improving: The agenda team identifies a cluster of possible paths and offers them to the small groups for improvement.
After a brief review of the agenda teams offering, the group members are called individually to improve each possible path. Then the group reconvenes and each shares how the path could be improved. Weighing: Remaining in small groups, the participants then spend time in silence to pray about each path. After the silence, group members report on where they sense Gods Spirit may be leading. Closing: A closing time is scheduled. Small group leaders test for consensus to conclude the discernment. Each group selects one person to report the wisdom of the group to the assembly.
When the assembly reconvenes, the agenda team brings a statistical report of the groups conclusions and the level of response. This serves as a kind of straw poll. From this the entire assembly can picture a sense of the meeting. After another extended time of prayer, a representative from any group may articulate to the assembly the wisdom of that ones small group as it discerned the leading of the Spirit. The facilitator may test for consensus, ask for more time, or ask for a vote. Resting: Commissioners may take time to sense whether the decision continues to seem right before a formal vote is taken within parliamentary procedure.
General Assembly of the Uniting Church of Australia27 The Uniting Church of Australia has been using a process of communal discernment for a number of years. Their General Assembly meets for seven days every three years, with two hundred seventy delegates. They are very intentional that their discernment of the Spirit is based in the context of Christian community. Their Manual for Meetings begins with a section on the formation of community. It is expected that twenty percent of their meeting time will be spent in worship and community building.
At its meeting in August , each plenary began with worship and Bible study. In the afternoons, delegates met in assigned discussion groups to talk Morning and afternoon teas were also important times for community building. The presentation of business followed a threefold pattern with an information session, a deliberative session, and a decision session. Information Session A proposal was presented, followed by questions for clarification or for further information.
This session lasted until the presiding officer, the president, was satisfied that the group had asked all the questions it needed to ask. Deliberative Session Discussion on various viewpoints was encouraged. Each delegate was given an orange card to signify support and a blue card to signify opposition. Delegates showed these cards after each speech, which helped give those assembled and the president a sense of the mind of the assembly. This helped avoid repetitious speeches and assisted the movement toward consensus, as the group gauged levels of support for various ideas.
Sometimes, several amendments were proposed during the deliberation stage.
Journeys of Simplicity
If consensus on the amendments was apparent, they were incorporated into the original proposal. If larger or more complicated amendments were proposed, discussion on the issue stopped and the original presenters and the amendment presenters developed a common proposal to bring back to plenary. Decision Session Only minor changes to the proposal were allowed at this point.
The benefits and limitations were discussed. The blue and orange cards were again used to indicate agreement or disagreement with the points made in the discussion. The president focused on both the process and the content. When the discussion seemed to have reached its conclusion, the president asked, Do you believe we have reached consensus on this proposal? If delegates raised a significant number of blue cards, discussion continued. If only orange cards were raised, consensus had been reached. If a few blue cards were displayed, the delegates who raised them were encouraged to share their misgivings with the assembly.
If they could be handled with a few word changes, consensus was still able to be reached.
If the objections continued, the president sought to bring the assembly to agreement. The president asked a series of questions of the assembly to ascertain whether those unable to support the proposal felt as if the majority had heard their views. They were also asked if they could live with the majority view and allow the assembly to record an agreement.
If opposition continued, the assembly had two choices. The first was to determine if the issue had to be decided at that point, which allowed the assembly the opportunity to revisit the issue at a later time. The second was to take a majority vote. Concerns With communal discernment, fewer decisions may flow from a particular meeting. Communal discernment processes can take longer than other modes of decision making, especially if they are new to participants. However, though the time of deliberation may take longer, the time for implementation will likely be shorter because of the collaboration and ownership gained while reaching consensus.
Moreover, when a body uses only parliamentary procedure, it could spend more time arguing over an issue than in collaboratively finding common ground. A concern is sometimes expressed that persons in the minority can either attempt to exercise veto power or be pressured to adopt the majority view. However, consensus is not the same as unanimity. Those with minority viewpoints can choose to: withdraw their concerns permit the decision to be made, with the intent to abide by the decision, and request that their concerns be recorded in the minutes state why they cannot support the decision at that time The facilitator or group can determine whether it is best to resolve their concerns before proceeding, go ahead and proceed with the decision, or lay down the matter.
When minorities feel their concerns have been heard, understood, and respected, their response is normally to allow the body to move ahead. However, in an era of much violence in the world and political polarity in the United States, efforts toward collaborative decision-making are themselves prophetic. The encouragement of open discussion allows a greater diversity of views to be expressed, which can be a profound, prophetic expression. Also, the care taken to reach decisions promotes ownership and, thus, solidarity of the fellowship.
Even if consensus is not reached, the reflection and enrichment can strengthen the voice and health of the body. Conclusion The church is called to proclaim and honor the power of the risen Christ, who guides us in our deliberations, moves us toward reconciliation, and sends us forth as loving servants. Those who follow the way of the cross are called to resist using the power of domination, because it belongs to Christ alone to rule, to teach, to call, and to use the Church as he wills G The more we surrender ourselves to Christ, the more we open ourselves to the unexpected, transforming grace of God.
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Victoria Grace Curtiss July DArcy Wood, from the Uniting Church of Australia, in comments for the World Council of Churches, reflecting on the experience of other bodies that have used consensus-seeking processes. Discussion Questions 1.
Using mutual invitation see next page , share thoughts on these questions, either in one or two rounds: What in our current practices helps us through conflict? What is conducive for discerning the mind of Christ in a group? Distribute and review the handout Forms of Deliberation on page Both dialogue and seeking consensus may be aspects of the larger process of spiritual communal discernment. What additional or different dimensions does a process of spiritual discernment include that dialogue and consensus-seeking alone do not?
What stands out particularly as a contrast between communal discernment and current practices of our governing bodies? Read the case studies for the church context in which you serve see appendices A through C. What from others experience do you think would be helpful to incorporate in your own setting?
How can you imagine incorporating dimensions of communal discernment in the life of the church? Mutual Invitation Objectives: Group type: Group size: Setting: Materials: Time needed: To facilitate sharing and discussion in a multicultural setting Any 4 to 15 participants Participants should sit in a circle.
Newsprint and markers Depends on group size; to tell how much time will be required for each round of sharing, multiply the number of participants by five minutes. How to proceed: A. Let participants know how much time is set aside for this process. Introduce the topic to be discussed or information to be gathered or question s to be answered. Write this on newsprint and post it on a wall so everyone can see it.
Introduce the process by reading the following: To ensure that everyone who wants to share has the opportunity to speak, we will proceed in the following way: The leader or designated person will share first. After that person has spoken, he or she then invites another to share. Whom you invite does not need to be the person next to you. After the next person has spoken, that person is given the privilege to invite another to share.
If you dont want to say anything, simply say, Pass, and proceed to invite another to share. We will do this until everyone has been invited. If this is the first time you use this with a group, it will be very awkward at first. The tendency is to give up on the process and go back to the whoever-wants-to-talk-can-talk way. If you are persistent in using this process every time you facilitate the gathering, the group will eventually get used to it and have great fun with it.
A good way to ensure the process goes well the first time is to make sure there are a couple of people in the group who have done this before and, as you begin the process, invite them first. Problems to anticipate This process addresses differences in the perception of personal power among the participants.
Some people will be eager for their turn, while others will be reluctant to speak when they are invited. If a person speaks very briefly and then does not remember to invite the next person, do not invite for him or her. Simply point out that this person has the privilege of inviting the next person to speak. This is especially important if a person passes. By ensuring that this person still has the privilege to invite, you affirm and value that person independent of that persons verbal ability.
Chalice Press, Appendix A. Forms of Deliberation Compiled by Victoria G. Even when the full discernment process is not used, its principles are still practiced. When session members share their perceptions, rather than debating or diminishing one anothers ideas, they engage in collective listening for the good in what each person offers, trusting that the highest good will rise to the top.
Often, the affect of the group reveals that a shared understanding of the Spirits leading is building. Persons offer similar contributions that build on one another.. Sometimes, the moderator of session will send up a trial balloon and take a straw poll to test for levels of consensus on an idea. Often, other members of session will respond to the question, What does God seem to be saying? Every experience has always led us to a conclusion that none of us had anticipated, said their pastor, the Reverend John E. The discernment process takes place within the context of regular monthly session meetings, at times over the course of several meetings.
Sometimes it is known in advance that a discernment process will be used; other times, the need for it becomes apparent in the midst of a discussion when there is either confusion or a wide range of viewpoints. Then the session slows down in its deliberation. Reflection on Scripture is incorporated. However, we all have to struggle with our false self, inner compulsions, selfishness, egotistical side, pride, anger, greed, fears, self-doubt, lack of trust, and being co-opted by the unchristian values of our surrounding culture. In Biblical terms the cosmic struggle between good and evil is being played out on the stage of our hearts.
We have to take sides. Who are we for and against? They are the following. Only a generous person would do this. To be that open and generous takes courage. Interior freedom : To make such a prayerful, generous, courageous decision requires interior freedom. Ignatius describes three types of people and their differing approaches to decision making Spiritual Exercises ,  :. Not to decide ends up being their decision. The second type of person does everything but the one thing necessary. They are in effect putting conditions on what God can call them to. The third type of person is the only one who is truly free.
If serving God, our Creator and Lord, is the ultimate goal of our lives, then everything else in our lives must be kept in the subordinate position of a means to that end. This means that things such as opportunities, experiences, and relationships are to be valued and chosen only insofar as they contribute to our ultimate goal in life and rejected insofar as they deter us from that goal.
All my choices, then, must be consistent with this given direction in my life. For example, states of life such as marriage, single life, religious life, or priesthood are means to serving God. So, we must put serving God first, and then choose whichever state of life that might be the best way for us to serve God. Many people, for example, choose marriage, which is a means. Many people first choose to make a lot of money or to be successful, and only afterwards to be able to serve God by it.
And so too in their striving for power, popularity, and so on. All of these people exhibit an attitude of putting God into second place, and they want God to come into their lives only after accommodating their own disordered and self-centered attachments. In other words, they mix up the order of an end and a means to that end. What they ought to seek first and above all else, they often put last.
A person like this in effect puts God into second place, only wanting God to come into their lives after first choosing what they want. Ignatius observes that in making an important decision we tend to find ourselves in one of three basic situations. We tend to either 1 feel inner clarity or certainty about what to do, or 2 we feel inner conflict about what to do, feeling pulled in different directions for example, feeling drawn to both religious life and having a family , or 3 there is not much of anything going on inside and we feel clueless.
Then we know what we should do and just have to go ahead and do it. Ignatius suggests that we start the decision-making process by putting before our mind what it is we want to decide about. This is a signal to do some more prayer. Return to Step 3. Ask God to free you from any selfish inclinations and lead you to worthy motives. This is the third of three states of the discernment.
First, you asked the Holy Spirit to transform your thoughts listing advantages and disadvantages. Second, you asked the Holy Spirit to transform your desires your will while evaluating the lists of advantages and disadvantages. Now you ask the Holy Spirit to stir feelings of spiritual consolation. These are feelings of joy, enthusiasm, deeper faith, greater hope and trust, greater love, confidence, courage.
These thoughts, desires, and feelings are all parts of your inner experience of the Holy Spirit guiding you to the truth. These feelings of consolation accompany your desires when they are clearly pointed toward loving and serving God, others, and your true self. They are very different from the feelings that accompany your desires when they are influenced by disordered attachments aimed only at your selfish ways.
If your feelings fluctuate between consolation and desolation, you may be under the influence of mixed motives and disordered attachments. If so, return to Step 3: pray for freedom and openness to God. Live with the decision for a while to see whether your thoughts, desires, and feelings continue to support it. If not, new data is needed and the process must be redone.
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What Is Ignatian Spirituality? About Contact. The Christian faith has always taken seriously the matter of discernment. What choice will I make? We must choose constantly, through our daily routines…. About Contact More. An Ignatian Framework for Making a Decision. Identify the decision to be made or the issue to be resolved. List the actions you might take about these issues.
Make a list of pros and cons for each issue or possible action. Rank the issues and possible actions in the order of preference as you currently experience them. Use the issue or possible action ranked first as the focus of your discernment. Formulate the issue in a proposal. State it as a positive , concrete choice. Make it as specific as possible What you will do, where, and when. State it in the way that God initially seems to be drawing you. State it in the form of X vs.