Deep Listening

Deep Listening & Shared Leadership

Again.  Yes, again.  Again I am writing an article following the yearly Giving Voice 20s/30s Retreat.  

For the ninth year, a number of sisters in their 20s and 30s from multiple communities gathered to pray and play together at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Phoenix, AZ.  I write every year because I believe what we pray, discuss, and dream as young sisters, grounded in our charisms and histories, is both the present and the future.  I know the way we organize and lead is a collaborative leadership model that works for the small, capable, relational groups that characterize what religious life is becoming.

Giving Voice maintains a core leadership team comprised of five professed sisters with staggered, three-year terms.  All of these sisters are in full-time ministry or are full-time students. Thanks to a Conrad N. Hilton grant to further leadership and collaboration among young religious in this time of new birth, Giving Voice has one paid employee who focuses on administrative and communications tasks for the organization.  Our work is done via monthly Zoom meetings and one annual face-to-face weekend with e-mail and shared Google documents doing the trick in between.  In addition to the core team, other young sisters are discerned and invited to lead things like the annual retreat, biannual national summer conference, and other committees as needed.  Everyone takes a turn; I have never been disappointed with an event or outcome.  

I would name deep listening and shared leadership as two deeply seeded values of the organization.  The phrases, "There's a leader in every chair," and "Ask for what you want, give what you can," are voiced often. The Circle Process, a particular model of contemplative dialog, often frames our time together.

When I first began attending Giving Voice events, its purpose seemed to be to provide a peer network of friendship and support for young sisters as we "gave voice" to our experiences as young religious.  This was (and still is) crucially important, as most of us entered without a peer group in our home communities.  This purpose, however, seems to be evolving as the network begins to reach beyond itself in corporate witness and define for ourselves and others what religious life is today moving to tomorrow. 

This fall, for example, Giving Voice members organized a march and solidarity prayer services in conjunction with the School of the America's watch on the U.S./Mexican border.  Just a few weeks ago, young sisters from communities of Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) and Council of Major Superiors of Women Religious (CMSWR) met for a week to collaborate on a book-writing project about religious life. 

Like religious life itself, Giving Voice is evolving. Open space topics for our time together used to focus on things like community living, but during this recent January retreat, conversations were hosted on practical ways to address racism in ourselves, our communities, and our neighborhoods, possible next corporate actions, and questions like those posed by S. Mary Sujita, SND, "Where is the Spirit leading us to relocate ourselves as prophets of God's Reign?  Can we put our heads and hearts together to search for a response?"

We know each other.  We know each other’s charisms.  We are committed to vowed religious life.  We give our lives in service, justice, and love.  And we are pretty excited about what is and will be!  These quotes from our closing prayer on retreat echo the sentiments of the group: 

"It's happening.  It's here.  And it's not just in my head.  It's right now." 

"We are strengthened by what is bubbling and we trust it.  And that's enough."

By Sister Sarah Heger, CSJ