By Sister Marcella Clancy
The best part of your favorite book? Your membership in a special local group? The most significant phase in your life? All are included in the definition of Chapter, and there is a fourth definition: the governing body of a religious community. Yet I must confess none of these definitions begin to describe the experience of the recent “Chapter” we held as the Congregation of St. Joseph.
It is true when the Chapter is in session it is the highest governing body in the Congregation, but the experience of “Chapter” is so much more than that. I am sure that everyone who participated in Chapter would have her or his own description of that experience. Here is mine!
- Beginnings: Chapter officially opened the morning of April 2, 2018, but it really began two years earlier. Reading meaningful articles expanded our thinking and our vision. Reflecting on our lives, ministries, and future challenged our hearts. Holy conversations in varied and diverse groups brought new awareness. Prayer and discernment, personally and together, brought us to deeper levels. These activities marinated each of us in the Spirit’s movement within ourselves and each other. The unspoken questions we pondered were: For the next five years, from 2018 to 2023 —- Where was the Spirit leading us? What would be our thrust? Where would we focus Congregational energy? What were the demanding needs of our time? Who would be our future leaders?
- Anticipation: We came to Chapter excited and cautious, expectant and apprehensive, as prepared as we could be yet realizing we were like empty vessels waiting to be filled with divine exuberance. Sisters, associates, staff, and other partners in mission gathered around tables, not to persuade others to our perspective, but to share the movement of the Spirit in our hearts and to listen attentively and intently to others. Reflecting back on the experience, there was a palpable presence and a force in the room much larger than our collective selves.
- Movement: In some sense we were dancing among ourselves and with God, leaving open spaces for the Spirit to move between us and within us while we chatted happily, ate plentifully, laughed freely, exercised when we could, celebrated often, prayed deeply and tended carefully to the business of the Chapter. The pace was slow and deliberate, being careful not to walk ahead of grace. There was a pervading sense of gentle joy.
- Work: So, what was this work that we accomplished? We affirmed the Evolving Design, which outlines how we commit ourselves to live our mission in this time and in this place. We further advanced the Generous Promises we committed ourselves to in 2007 by articulating Our Sacred Work, in which we pledged ourselves:
- to deepen our practice of shared leadership
- to strengthen and expand our collaboration…with a diversity of persons and groups to bring about life-giving change
- to respectfully engage people who may hold different values or world views to bring about cultural transformation
- to exercise our moral authority… standing in solidarity with Earth and all who are oppressed… giving public voice when addressing systemic injustice.(Note: we tend to be exceptionally, some would say foolishly, bold and broad in our commitments.)
Finally we deeply discerned and elected five wonderful women to guide us in keeping us faithful to these commitments. We ended our time together, as Jesus so often did with his friends, around a festive meal, full of thanksgiving and stirred to begin anew witnessing to God’s love transforming ourselves and our world.
- After Glow: We arrived home exhausted, spent by days of attentive listening, overwhelmed by the utter goodness of those present and hollowed out by God’s consuming energy yet utterly hopeful that God would complete the good work God had begun in us. Chapters are held only every five years. They are concentrated and intensive experiences of community, mission and vision, and God’s abiding grace. Chapters really do not end. Rather they impel us forward for five years until we meet again.
About the Author
Sister Marcella Clancy currently lives in the Detroit area. She offers spiritual direction, serves on Congregational committees, and companions one of our newer members. She loves long walks, good movies, and leisurely lunches with friends.