The Steering Committee and Task Group for the Irish Synodal Pathway wish to express their appreciation to all who contributed to the public consultation which took place in April and May 2021.
The consultation invited responses to the following question: What would be your preferred option for engagement in a conversation process about the Synod?
The introductory text stated:
Before embarking on the Synodal Pathway consultation, bishops are inviting submissions to reflect on what methods/models to adopt in these coming two years of conversations. For example: parish hall meetings, focus groups, questionnaires, deep-listening sessions; written submissions; family-focused gatherings; summary of findings of assemblies that have already taken place across dioceses; and/or conferences.
Feedback, which should be no more than 300 words and submitted by Pentecost Sunday 23 May 2021, ought to focus on the nature of the process for the consultation i.e. how we can best go about this initial phase of establishing the conversation, rather than on the prospective themes for the Synodal Pathway, which will be addressed in the next phase.
A wide range of responses were received. These have been analysed and the findings used to inform the work of the Task Group in supporting and resourcing diocesan delegates, as well as by the Steering Committee to inform its preparatory work. The responses provided insights into the challenges and opportunities for the national synodal pathway in Ireland.
Respondents shared valuable perspectives on the possible approaches and methodologies that might be adopted to engage people in the synodal process. Many of these are currently being utilised in the listening processes underway as part of the engagement with the Universal Synod.
Over a quarter of respondents favoured some form of written contribution, either in isolation or in combination with some form of group interaction. The majority of these specified a questionnaire as the best way to do this. Reasons respondents gave for this preference included the fact that it gave assurances of anonymity and confidentiality for those who may be reluctant to share in an open forum. It is accessible to a wide range of people, including those who would struggle to find the time to attend a meeting and it can provide an efficient way to establish a baseline in terms of people’s views and level of understanding.
The text accompanying the consultation suggested several types of in-person public gathering: parish hall meetings, focus groups, deep listening sessions. Of these the most frequently cited was focus groups. Some felt that the in-person sessions should be supported by written materials (e.g. discussion papers) and/or integrated with other forms of outreach and engagement (for example, as a follow-up to a questionnaire where participants would discuss the findings).
Preference for online engagement was due in part to the restrictions in place at the time of the consultation because of COVID-19, but respondents also found this to be a convenient way to reach large numbers of people, and some suggested that for young people online would be preferable to in-person.
Several submissions suggested targeted research to ensure a thorough understanding of the context informs the work of the synodal pathway – both within the Church (e.g. evaluation of pastoral plans, analysis of current structures and resources, opinion polls gauging understanding of church teaching) as well as the wider societal context (sociological research, demographics, opinion polls about attitudes to Church and other relevant issues).
Other suggestions included:
- Social media (mainly to engage young people)
- Development of an App
- Scriptural Reflection
- Prayer — Designated Sunday
- Training in facilitation/listening to be made widely available
- Regular updates (e.g. monthly newsletter)
- Appreciative enquiry method
- Citizens’ Assembly as a model
- Contemplative Dialogue circles
- Living Dialogue Programme
- Open Space
- Personal outreach to individuals – phone calls, e-mails
- Q&A session with diocesan bishop
- Use of stories
- SWOT analysis
- Thematic sessions
- World Cafe
The members of the Steering Committee and Task Group were greatly encouraged by the level of engagement with this consultation. They wish to thank all who gave generously of their time to share their views and experiences. This has been a useful exercise not only for the information provided, but also because the learning from this experience will inform future consultations that may take place as part of the synodal pathway.