Facilitators trained to lead listening sessions

By Maureen Smith
GLUCKSTADT – When the faithful gather to share their thoughts for the diocesan shared vision plan they will have help to make sure all their voices are heard. On Saturday, Jan. 9, more than a dozen people gathered at St. Joseph Parish to learn how to be facilitators for the listening sessions.
Dennis Van Auken from Catholic Leadership Institute, the company tapped to guide the process, led the training session. Facilitators learned how to set up an honorable space for sharing and listening and got advice on how to keep the listening sessions to their allotted timeframes while allowing people to fully participate.
The sessions start Monday, Feb. 15. There are 17 sessions throughout the diocese, including ones specifically for priests and lay ecclesial ministers (LEMs) “The listening sessions are a great opportunity for the people of the diocese to speak directly to the bishop of their hopes and dreams for our church for the next three-five years,” said Msgr. Elvin Sunds, who is managing the logistics for the planning process.
A facilitator will lead each session. A full schedule is on page 11. The sessions are the first step in the process of writing a shared vision and priority plan for the diocese to follow for the next five years. A Leadership Council will spend the next year going through the results of the listening sessions and other data, getting training in strategic planning and articulating the priorities they would like to see the diocese tackle. “Out of these listening sessions we look to develop a unified vision that will give us a direction and priorities for the diocese for the next three to five years,” said Msgr. Sunds.
These priorities are then translated into SMART goals. SMART goals, an acronym used in corporate planning, are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely. Each one will have a timeline and specific tasks associated with it.
Bishop Joseph Kopacz asked Catholic Leadership Institute to facilitate this process because of their experience with planning. The bishop feels that starting with the people in the pews and their pastoral leaders is the best way to identify the priorities for the plan.
“We are there to listen. The bishop will be there to listen. Everything is set up in order to make it easy for people to focus their attention on what they would like to see in the diocese for the next five years or so,” said Pam Minninger, one of the facilitators at the training.
The sessions are not the place to bring complaints. “We are not there to answer questions, discuss ongoing issues or explain or address concerns,” said Minninger. Those issues are better settled on a parish level. “This is really a chance for us to dream about what we can do,” said Minninger.
The instructor told facilitators they should not only listen, but listen with reverence. Facilitators should withhold judgement and remember that there does not have to be agreement or consensus on a particular idea. The sessions are meant to collect all viewpoints and all viewpoints matter. “The facilitators will help keep the listening sessions focused on the hopes and dreams people bring,” said Msgr. Sunds.
Sheila Przesmicki, LEM at Booneville St. Francis and facilitator said she appreciates that even shy people will have a say at these sessions. “Everyone will have an opportunity to write their thoughts down so whether or not you speak, you will be heard,” she explained.
At each session, participants will be seated at tables. They will hear the structure and then get some questions to answer. Each person will have a chance to respond in writing.  Each table will get time to share their thoughts with one another and then there will be a chance to share thoughts with the whole gathering.
“This is a chance to consider the diocese as a whole – to look at the big picture,” said Przesmicki. “One of the things I liked is the language CLI used to help us guide the sessions. Each session is bilingual. “I think that’s very important because we want participation from everyone,” said Przesmicki.
Minninger is excited about the plan that will come out of this work. “This is a chance for us to bring our faith alive and bring Jesus to people and really be on fire again,” she said.