So far in our project I have; 1. Been called to serve on the Bishop’s Nominating Committee, 2. Attended a retreat which brought the team together and molded us through a common purpose and process, 3. Helped set up communications across the diocese and publish the process, the timeline, the biographies of the sub committees and frequently asked questions (and answers).
At this point I felt that the sub-committee teams were being formed and the exciting work was about to begin.
It was time for “"Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear."(Mark 4:9)
First, there was the need to listen across the diocese and gather information about each community’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges. We achieved this through a Holy Cow Landscape Survey which gave an overall view of how the diocese saw itself plus 357 specific suggestions the respondents would like considered.
At this point the Listening and Surveying Sub Committee planned and arranged the active listening sessions across 9 geographic locations. As the whole Nominating Committee was to be split across locations to conduct the listening sessions I was drawn to Mark 6:7 when Jesus “called the twelve and began to send them out two by two“.
Theologically I felt the Holy Spirit was with us in the listening process planning and with each congregation as they answered the call to participate in the sessions. As I prayed on this and looked for relevant passages of scripture to support my feelings, I was guided to Luke 10:2 “These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So, pray to God who is in charge of the harvest; ask for more workers to send into the fields.”.
When the sessions started, it seemed obvious to me the workers (attendees) we prayed for came!
To me, the start of each session was rather like a worship service, starting with a prayer and then preaching the objectives, guidelines, processes to each team.
All the attendees were to be split into multiple, diverse groups to discuss the 4 key questions the Listening Sub Committee had developed.
Just like many of the attendees I was surprised by the questions.
I was expecting direct questions such as “What do you want in a Bishop” or “What should our next Bishop be like” but the questions were expertly crafted to elicit discussion and opinion, including:
· Who are we?
· Who are our neighbors?
· What is God calling me to do right now?
· How can our Bishop help me (us) do what God is calling us to do?
In each group every person was given the chance to answer these questions followed by group discussion. Notes were taken to present to the Nominating Committee.
In these sessions I noticed how important it was to actively listen, to concentrating on what is being said rather than just passively ‘hearing’ the message of the speaker.
What I am reminded of again and again, is that listening is one of the most important interpersonal communication skills and unlike “hearing” is not something that just happens. It is an active process which requires a conscious and constant decision to listen to and understand the messages being delivered.
When I was actively listening, I tried to engage all senses, give full attention to the speaker, show interest in what was being said, be neutral and non-judgmental, not take sides or form opinions, and be patient.
In all these conversations if there were pauses and short periods of silence I was tempted to jump in with questions or comments, but I made a conscious effort to focus on the speaker instead.
I found this took energy, humbleness and patience to give each person adequate time to explore their thoughts and feelings and to focus on the message they were delivering through their speech and non-verbal signs. It took personal concentration and God’s grace for me to “have ears to hear”, rather than a tongue which would not be still.
I found I was not just listening and waiting to give a preconceived reply, I was listening with an open mind and open heart, recognizing that each person had different and valuable thoughts, feelings and a message to share.
Within the sessions and the resulting notes, I could see the Holy Spirit at work in all the discussions, reminding me of Isaiah 55:11 “So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it”
At each session we had prayed, gave the word in the objectives and questions, and truly it did not come back empty. Together we all succeeded in our purpose and gave the information needed to develop the profile of our diocese.
From the Holy Cow Landscape Survey, listening session notes, and photographs from events across the diocese the Profile Sub-Committee wanted to develop a document which captured the sense of the people and the mission of the whole diocese. The profile would be pictorially and visually rich, focused on the community and convey the current mission, the geographical and cultural richness, and complexity of San Diego.
I felt that in the sessions we did have “ears to hear”, we did listen to each person and the Holy Spirit then guided the development of the profile.
Rather than publish a job description or laundry list of what we wanted in a new Bishop this profile would communicate a description of us, our neighbors, what we are being called to do and then asked nominees to tell us how they could help us.
Again, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit our words would not return empty.
In reflecting on the complicated process of active listening I think each community was heard and provided the information to develop a profile reflecting our hopes, dreams, and our challenges, but more importantly God’s will for our Diocese.
I think this part of the project is where God challenged all of us to respond to what we are being called to do, but one question to ask yourself is “Can you identify similarities and dissimilarities in how you actively listen and act on what you hear?”