It all started with prayer – a Year of Prayer to be exact. I remember sitting in St. Aloysius after Mass one day when Archbishop Vigneron announced it. I had been working for Central Services for just over a year, so I still wasn’t sure what was standard practice as far as announcements from the Archbishop. I soon learned that this was far from standard.
Although the Church often announces special years (i.e., the Year of St. Paul, the Year of Mercy, and most recently the Year of St. Joseph), this particular year was being set aside to pray to the Holy Spirit for the future of the Church in Detroit. I don’t think anyone knew what to expect with this Year of Prayer – certainly no one was expecting it to be a year of so much healing and preparation for all of us.
From where I sat, the biggest moment of healing was at the Mass for Pardon, towards the end of the Year of Prayer. It was one of the more eye-opening moments in my time at the Archdiocese. Here, the Archbishop was asking God for forgiveness of the sins caused by the Church in Detroit. I had never seen anything like this. It was like Confession on the grandest scale. All at once, it felt like we were taking a collective breath and stepping out of the past together.
Soon after, we had the announcement of Synod 16. Walking back from the announcement, a few of us had to Google what a synod was. We all learned quickly, as preparation started right away. We had one year to get ready for what was being described as a “transformative event in the life of the Church in Detroit”.
In that year, articles were being written, promo videos were being filmed, teams were gathered, prayer teams dispersed, and parishes were being prepped. Every floor you went to in the Chancery was getting ready — the excitement was palpable.
Voice from the Pews
By the time we got to the regional gatherings, although still unsure of what to expect, we were feeling more ready as parishes became involved. Little did I know that these gatherings would be the foundation of Synod 16.
As each region gathered, we heard firsthand the grievances, ideas, frustrations, and hopes of those from every region. One by one people got up to the microphone and spoke from the heart. As their ideas were written down, it was clear where the common themes were. Each person had a chance to be heard. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a monumental experience this was for our Church. It was an opportunity for the “average Joe” at any given parish to be heard and bring in change.
These themes for each region eventually became the marching orders for the Synod. If the Year of Prayer had taught us anything, it was that these weren’t just the voices of those in the pews, it was the Holy Spirit voicing where the work needed to be done.
The Effects of His Work
I arrived early to the Westin Book Cadillac for Synod 16. I was asked to be a facilitator at a table, which meant my job was to guide the conversation, to keep us on task, and to challenge the table to stay mission focused – not maintenance focused. That was the task for this Synod: moving from maintenance to mission.
On paper, the schedule for the weekend was simple enough: discuss different topics at your table, introduce your perspectives from the lens of your parish community, and then share with the larger group in the Westin ballroom.
Despite the simplicity of the schedule, I was surprised by how much work the weekend was. If you’ve ever trained for a race, you know it’s a lot of hard work. On race day, you push yourself past your comfort zone, but there is also a lot of joy and excitement. The Synod felt similar. The conversations at the tables weren’t always easy – people came with their different perspectives and ideas were challenged. At one difficult moment, my table had to stop mid conversation and pray to the Holy Spirit to guide us through a rough patch, remembering why we were there.
As a mom, I have to explain things to my four-year-old very simply. Recently I described the Holy Spirit like the wind: you can’t see Him but you can see the effects of His work. During the conversations at the Synod, watching people challenge one another and witnessing representatives from around the whole Archdiocese working to create change, the Holy Spirit was so profoundly at work it was as though you almost could see Him.
It was at some point between the opening Mass at St. Aloysius and the closing remarks from the Archbishop that I became convinced that the graces received one year ago from the Year of Prayer were being experienced in their truest form here at Synod 16. This was not just a weekend get-together to brainstorm, it wasn’t just another Church program being used as a Band-Aid over larger issues. This was work that would be lasting us for years.
Different Day, Same Mission
It’s been five years since Synod 16. So much work has been done since then. Talking with others or attending Sunday Mass, you may think the Synod is far from our current reality, a distant memory of a job well done.
We have endured so much since then, things that weren’t written into any action plans at the time or brought up in the Westin ballroom – a pandemic, live-streamed Masses, being away from the Eucharist for some time, racial injustices being brought to light, a political war zone, grief on a global scale. Despite all this hardship, the same Holy Spirit who moved us five years ago in downtown Detroit is moving us in the same direction now.
When the Archbishop released Unleash the Gospel, it was meant to guide us as families and individuals to focus on evangelization – whatever that means for each of us. Our circumstances have changed around us, the plans we made have evolved, but our mission is the same today.
All those years ago, prayer was the fuel we needed to be open to the Holy Spirit. Those graces are still surrounding us. Can we say that we have become joyful missionary disciples just yet? Even if we’re not quite there, I think it’s safe to say the Holy Spirit, with prayer, will continue working in our diocese over these next five years and beyond.