Canon Paul Fitzpatrick, Chair of the Diocesan Synodal Pathway Committee, writes for the Autumn edition of The Basilican, the magazine of the St Chad's Cathedral Association. The magazine was published prior to the Synod taking place in Rome this October.

Synodality and the Diocesan Vision

Over the last two years we have been ‘Walking Together’ = growing in the practice of Synodality and seeking to implement our Diocesan Vision. Next month, as the Synod on Synodality begins in Rome; these two complimentary processes will have an even closer union. 

Our Diocesan Vision
‘Our vision is to be a Catholic Diocese which is faithful to the mission entrusted to us by Jesus Christ, full of missionary disciples who work together co-responsibly in vibrant communities of faith, joyful in their service of God and neighbour’. 

As an Archdiocese, we have discerned four diocesan priorities and themes. These are Evangelisation, Formation, Liturgy and Worship, Social Outreach, with emphasis on Families and Young People, and an emphasis on serving in a co-responsible manner.

My role as the chair of the Synodal Working Group and as the Episcopal Vicar for Oxfordshire, Warwickshire and Coventry has been to help us as an Archdiocese to develop the practice of Synodality and to implement the Diocesan Vision across my area of responsibility. I have found that the synodal methodology has been an integral part of this process. 

Two Complimentary Processes
The implementation of the Diocesan Vision requires focused conversations, engaged listening prayerful discernment, enabling broader decision making; always directed toward action. None of this would be possible if we had not homed these skills as a diocese when we enthusiastically responded to Pope Francis’ invitation to undertake Synodal Conversations and grow in Synodality; to walk together. Focused conversation, listening and discernment continue to take place at every level of the Church: Diocesan, Continental and Universal.

As a diocese, we intertwined our diocesan priorities and themes as outlined in our vision, as a prism through which we could discern what the Holy Spirit is saying to us, and the Church as a whole. This enabled our Diocesan Synthesis to have a particular flavour, unlike any other diocese across the country. Birmingham placed its Synodal emphasis upon co-responsibility as the key to interpreting these two complimentary processes. 

To quote our submission for the Continental stage:
‘Arising from our common baptismal dignity, our vision of vibrant and joyful communities of faith is rooted in the expression of co-responsibility of all the baptised for the one mission of the Church. The Archdiocese of Birmingham has seen the implementation of its Diocesan Vision and walking together along the Synodal Pathway, as one and the same. Co-responsibility has become the prism by which this is achieved. We note that there is a fresh emphasis upon co-responsibility as the ‘engine’ as it were, that drives mission forwards. It is significant that whereas previously the subtitle for the Synodal documents was ‘Communion, Participation and Mission’; has become ‘Communion, Participation and Co-responsibility’. 

As we reach the Universal stage next month, with the Synod on Synodality beginning in Rome, I shall be interested to see how co-responsibility becomes ever more the engine which drives mission across the Church. 

Practical Application and Implementation across the Archdiocese 
One question I am asked is, ‘What’s happened to Synodality?’ Every parish engaged in Synodal conversations, with enthusiasm in March 2022, but it seems to have stopped? This is not the case; the conversations have moved to the continental stage, and shortly the universal stage; but they will return to the diocesan and national level after the first session of the Synod (October 2023) only to prepare for deeper discernment in the second session of the Synod (October 2024). 

Secondly, these parish conversations have not stopped, but rather have become a vital part of the implementation of the Diocesan Vision, usually as part of a Deanery Visitation. Over the last six months, I have been working with the Deanery of Coventry and Nuneaton to help them to discern how they will implement the Diocesan Vision, using our Synodal Methodology.

This begins by meeting with the Clergy to help them to understand the importance of listening, discernment, and action. To seek to understand their priorities and the local initiatives taken across the Deanery. In every parish I visit there would be a Synodal discussion to which every parishioner is invited. In this meeting we would seek to discern how the diocesan vision might be implemented in this local area, and how resources and gifts, as well as the challenge of this undertaking might be shared with other parishes in the locality, working co-responsibly together as a cluster. As this process continues across twenty-two parishes a picture begins to emerge, which in turn leads to broader discernment and the possibility of concrete recommendations in key areas. 

It is at this point that the Synodal methodology comes into its own. As in the whole Church this listening and discernment takes place at Diocesan, Continental, Universal levels; so, across the deanery at Parish, Cluster and Deanery levels there is a renewed focus upon listening and discernment with the visitation recommendations to guide this process. We should not lose sight that this process is ultimately directed towards action. To make a difference. 

The Next Steps …
This change of focus has one direct outcome. The deanery visitation does not close. We move to different levels of discernment, listening and action. The work begun in the Coventry and Nuneaton Deanery will continue in the coming year and I will begin the same process in Banbury and Warwick from October 2023 – July 2024. The Synod in Rome begins next month, but we will be asked to discern and reflect on its outcome in 2024, prior to the second session in October 2024. 

In short, we are learning to become a listening Church, to act in a different way, to deepen the skills we are using. This takes time and an openness to the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church. Please pray for the Synod and the implementation of our Diocesan Vision.

Diocesan Vision, Unfolding God's Plan