Wisconsin Religious Collaborative Blog: Better Together: Sharing Our Journey
Early on in my work as a consultant with The Metanoia Group at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota, I had a very telling conversation with my boss about planning for organizations. The Metanoia Group was principally founded to serve the Development needs of small non-profit organizations, especially Catholic Dioceses, Schools, and Parishes. My work was chiefly in the area of strategic planning.
My conversation with my boss was an effort to delve into the philosophy that guided our work. I was trying to explain my approach to strategic planning and the need to be responsive to changing situations. Tim was convinced that my approach was not strategic but merely reactive and would never serve the needs of our clients. As a new employee and just graduated with a degree in organization development I felt a bit intimidated by his years of experience and his certainty.
Now many years later I recognize that the underlying approach to planning was an effort to foresee, as much as possible, what might confront an organization and to take steps to steer in a particular direction. In working with my own community I quickly realized that when we answered those questionnaires about what ministry we expected to be in in five-year’s time or what community house we would be living in in five-year’s time we were always sincere in making the prediction and almost never right about what actually occurred.
That experience reshaped my own approach to planning. I have watched in recent years how religious congregations have reflected on the things that the natural world, quantum physics, and other more organic processes of the created world have suggested as a different approach. Still, I can hear Tim chiding me about being merely reactive when I’m really hoping that we can be more creative and nimble.
These days I find myself wondering what makes the difference. I think that I have come to realize that you cannot guarantee the steps in a plan nor delineate in great detail how to move forward. What I do know is that the ability to be more than reactive is based in the values that undergird the actions one is to take.
I cannot know with certainty what will come my way today, but I do know that my own reflection and prayer is a continual wrestling with three basic questions: As a group, why do we exist—what is our purpose? What difference do we make in the here and now? What wisdom do we want to hand on to those who live and work with us where we are?
When I have some certainty about needing to stay grounded in the answers to those questions, I can respond to what comes my way with wisdom and grace. I can hold to what my community’s founder said long ago: The need of the times is the will of God!
During an opening discussion at the Resource Center for Religious Institutes conference last Fall, a speaker referred to the following gospel selection (Luke 3:1-3):
Soon afterwards, He began going around from one city and village to another, proclaiming and preaching the kingdom of God. The twelve were with Him, 2and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and sicknesses: Mary who was called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, 3and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who were contributing to their support out of their private means.
In doing so, he highlighted the idea that the women were supporting and providing for the apostles. He found that particularly relevant as women religious are still today going forth and offering support, stewardship, and ministry. As the speaker said, “Women have always been taking care of things.”
So, as women religious today need to face a changing and uncertain future, they are called to “take care of things,” to provide support for themselves, each other, and those who benefit from their ministry. Sisters must make decisions, develop plans, and take actions to ensure that their legacies live on and all women religious can continue living a meaningful life of purpose and ministry until their final days. The beautiful part is that women religious are absolutely capable and prepared to chart this new course. Sisters have been charting a course their whole lives. From founding congregations, to the evolution of causes and ministries, to new ways of managing congregations, sisters simply get things done.
As we face new challenges ahead, we all—vowed and laity alike—can draw on the strength, history, and perseverance of women religious everywhere. We can stand on the shoulders of those who have made difficult decisions and put their trust in God and each other to find a new way. We can move forward confidently knowing that women religious have been taking care of things all along.