The Re-Birthing of God

“The Re-birthing of God”was the title  Senan D’Souza chose for the workshop on spirituality. He based his sessions on material from John Philip Newell, as well as much other material. It proved an inspiring choice as the group was led through familiar themes but opened up in new and creative ways… reconnecting with our journey, spiritual practices, the earth, compassion and love.

A particularly insightful presentation was that on “Stages of Faith”. Based on work by Fowler and Wilber, Senan helped us identify that there are stages of faith, which stage we might each be at and how we see further growth happening. It seemed to help explain why we have some confusion about spirituality among Brothers at the moment.

The final session was a “harvesting” from many rich conversations. Some highlights …

“I came to realise that my inherited images of God have changed … a shift from a punishing God to a relational God”. “I seem to have lost touch with poor people and my spirit of compassion in recent years”. “I’m seeing a ‘bigger God’ present everywhere in the universe”. “My spiritual practices have changed over the years in the Brothers which I’m grateful for”. “How can I move toward an ‘eco’ view which sees all humanity and creation as interdependent, as against an ‘ego’ view where man is dominant?” “I am rediscovering the sacredness of “mother earth” through remembering the beliefs of my grandparents who regarded rivers, mountains and trees as sacred.” “We are all at different stages of faith development and need to respect those at different stages to ourselves. To move to another level requires much selflessness and perseverance. Our CB prayer life is in transition at this time in our history.”

The Journey So Far

From all corners of the wind we came. We travelled by air, sea a
nd road and converged on the International Postulancy at Bo, Sierra Leone. Our purpose was to attend Part Two of the West African Orientation Program that had been jointly planned by Transition Support Team (TST) in collaboration with the DLT of West African District and the local Brothers of the Postulancy Staff.

After a hearty welcome and traditional ritual led by the organizing committee, we settled down to share our sacred stories over the one year since Part One in August, 2018. We came to realise that our stories carried the fabric of how the divine had walked with us.

We were conscious of the fact that some members of last year’s group were not physically present with us for varied reasons. We sent our good energy out to them wherever their life journey had taken them.

Next we looked at how to rebuild community among us by re-visiting the Standards of Presencethat we had jointly crafted in 2018. We agreed the nitty-gritty of our household tasks and the practical processes of how we are going to deepen our brotherhood.

Then it was time to get down to business. David Gibson from TST asked us what topics we would like to cover in order to create Vibrant and Cohesive communities. It became quite clear from the outset, that effective LEADERSHIP is at the core of the process of building Joyful, Vibrant, and Cohesive communities. So we delved into the skills for and styles of leadership, and how leadership has the power of breaking or making cohesive communities.

We realised that all of us in one form or the other have been called to leadership roles, whether designated, psychological or effectiveleaders. We all have to make our unique contribution in achieving cohesive and vibrant communities. Two key words emerged which sum up what all members of any given community have to do in order to transform their community – intention andattention. Each member of that community needs to participate generously in the co-creatingprocess, so that it becomesa sacred place for the Divine to dwell among humans.

One tool that can be very effective in this Co-creating process is honest feedback.Feedback given in  honest and brotherly fashion, has the capacity to transform behaviour and perspective. Feedback can become a mirror in which blind spots in ones’ life can gradually be made smaller. It becomes a process of self-knowledge and self-discovery.

At the community level, feedback, if received in a gracious manner, can be a blessing as it can change behavioural patterns and attitudes. The openness of each member in receiving and giving honest feedback is a powerful tool in transforming the hearts and minds of a community and in setting achievable goals for the community. Feedback will challenge it’s members to relate to each other at a deeper and honest level.

The week ended with looking at the different stages that all communities go through in the process of forming a cohesive and vibrant community. The Pseudo stage has characteristics like pretence, white lies, making generalized statements to one another, avoidance of conflict, denying differences, going with the dominant view point as a way of avoiding chaos. Other stages are Chaos, Emptiness and Real community. The point is that until a community goes through the four phases, it will remain at the Pseudo stage, where it’s members will settle for the status quo and blatantly refuse to engage each one at a mature level.

The reconciling and healing processes that comes from the stage of Emptiness have a powerful influence in making the community “Real”. At this stage quietness and peace might return to the community where it’s members honour the vulnerability of others, have deep respect for one another and learn to live with difference knowing that diversity can enrich community life.

No doubt through our engagement with David Gibson the week was an inspirational one. The group and individual evaluations point to the fact that David is a presenter in a class of his own with his style and methodology. We held a social evening on Friday evening to give David all the accolades that he deserves and sent him on his way to Freetown and later to Dublin to attend his province Chapter.

Augustine Williams

Vibrant and Cohesive Communities

Creating Vibrant and Cohesive communities

 

We started to create community using a useful framework called “Standards of Presence” (adapted from The Foundation for Inspired Learning). Two ‘standards’ stood out … “Be fully present” and “Practice self care and self responsibility”. These have now become targets for the four weeks ahead of the Ndei Liwa program.

Our community building continued by working on an On-site Child & Vulnerable Adult Protection document for the Ndei Liwa Program, Bo Formation Centre to operate during the program. We were able to take on board the latest thinking and documents from the Congregation and the Church.

David then led a lively session on Generative Conversations based on the processes from Matthieu Daum. We agreed to try and practice the techniques during the weeks to come.

Last year during Ndei Liwa Phase 1 David introduced Transactional Analysis and it proved highly profitable. Now he turned his attention to how to create “cohesive and vibrant” communities.

We named what we wanted from the workshop:

To learn new leadership skills and the best style of leadership for community building and in ministry; to learn what adult leadership is about in trying to facilitate compassionate communities; to Identify what might be missing from my community life now; to manage myself when my community is NOT cohesive and vibrant; to relate with Brothers I feel negatively towards in a non-judgemental way.

The Opening Ritual

On Tuesday, 6thAugust, the Brothers from West Africa District gathered in Bo to come together for the second session of the orientation programme, Ndei Liwa(the Core of Brotherhood). The theme of the opening ritual was ‘Regathering to further deepen our brotherhood.

The seven participants together with Francis Hall, Ruvan Rebello and David Gibson met at the entrance gate where Charles Belmoh greeted the Brothers in the traditional style and poured a libation to honour the ancestors.  Peter Kabia welcomed the participants on behalf of the Bo community, and Augustine Williams narrated a mende story to highlight the importance of community. Joseph Gomeh read from the 2018 Ndei Liwa bulletin which aimed to link the second half of the programme with the session of the previous year.

There followed some readings from Luke’s Gospel about the calling of the Disciples and then Charles asked the question “Why have you come?  Each of the participants responded to the question and the ceremony concluded with the Brothers singing Companions on the Journey.

 

The Missioning Ceremony

Today the Missioning Ceremony of the 5thOrientation Programme  took place when the 15 Brother participants  gathered in the Little Daughters of St. Joseph Retreat Centre along with invited guests.  This was be an important moment for the Brothers when they were being missioned back to their respective countries.

The choir from Edmund Rice School Embulbul opened the ceremony singing Hii ndiyo siko: This is the day which God has made. Let us sing for joy to praise God .

Br Alphas Odoyo welcomed the invited guests and introduced the theme of the ceremony: Go Light Your World.

The choir then sang Christ has no body now but yours to highlight the challenge facing the Brothers who will take an active part in ministry to people, especially those who have been made poor by unjust structures.

Lynette and some of the Brothers enacted the Gospel reading which highlighted the cost of discipleship.

The missioning ritual followed where the members of the Orientation Programme Team anointed the Brother participants as a way of sending them out in mission.

Once anointed, they were presented with a travelling bag with the inscription Journeying Together on it, together with a certificate of attendance presented by Br Tony Shanahan and Br Amandi Mboya from the East Africa District Leadership Team.

Sister Lynette Rodriques invited the guests to give a round of applause for the anointed Brothers.

Brothers Marvin Phiri, Christian Hazeley and Alphas Odoyo then briefly shared the experience of the Orientation Programme and how it had impacted on them.

The blessing ritual followed where each of the Brothers said a blessing prayer for another Brother and presented him with a candle as he said: ‘Go Light Your World!” The Brother then lit his candle and placed it in the centre piece.

As the blessing ritual unfolded, the choir sang: To the Mystery that calls me, I say ‘Yes!” and Sr Lynette called on the invitees to bless the Brothers as they returned to their respective countries.

The Brothers faced the congregation with candle in hand and sang a blessing for the invitees: May vision and truth companion you.  May beauty be in your eyes.  May peace fill your being.  Love hold you close.  Earth give you guidance. Stars give you hope.  Blessing of life to you.

As the ceremony moved to conclusion, Br Ajay Dang from India offered a vote of thanks to all who had been involved in the Orientation Programme.  He expressed the gratitude of the Brothers for all the people who had made the Orientation Programme a moment of transformation for the Brothers.

As the Brother exited together with the guests, the choir sang the final song:  Go Light Your World!

The people then gathered to cut the celebratory cake and partook of light refreshments

 

 

Final Evaluation

Today was the final day of the Orientation Programme and was devoted to evaluating the whole experience.  Bev Watkinson, from the Ruban Centre, conducted the morning’s work.

She began by stressing that every experience requires us to reflect on it so that we can learn and then apply the learning to our daily lives and work.   She invited the Brothers to assess what learning was achieved, the learning that went well as well as those aspects that worked less well and which could have been done differently. She used Kirkpatrick’s model of Reactions, Learnings, Results and Behaviours to identify how the Brothers integrated the whole experience.

She also asked some volunteers to share how they experienced the conflict management workshop and  the prayer experience. She then invited every Brother to draw a timeline where they marked which of the course had a positive or negative impact on him and these timelines were collected for further analysis.

Bev also introduced the idea of five types of attendees:  participants, passengers, protesters, protectors and pilots, and invited Brothers to see in which categories they would put themselves.

Finally, each Brother was asked to fill out a detailed questionnaire on the whole experience of the OP which also will be collated by Bev.

Re-entry

 

Today Amandi and Bill began the day with looking back on what had been done the previous day and taking some of the reflections from the Brothers.

Then, they enacted a role play where a Brother returned to his community and attempted to introduce some of the spiritual practices that they had experienced during the OP.  A discussion followed where many expressed the idea that the challenge first lies with the individual Brothers to live what they had learnt over the last three months.  Then, gradually, they can suggest some changes while recognising that there could be some resistance to their suggestions.

Finally, Amandi and Bill invited the Brothers to write a letter to themselves, outlining what practically they intend doing when they return home to maintain the learnings of the OP.  They then exchanged these letters and the Brother receiving another Brother’s letter was asked to post it to the owner in a month or so, and then connect with that Brother to offer support on the continuing spiritual journey.

Re-Orientation

Today began a two-day process of helping the participants to think about how best to re-enter their communities.  The process was facilitated by the Community Support Team from the East Africa District comprising Tom Kearny, Bill Colford and Amandi Mboya.  The session began with the team playing the song Follow Me which led to a good discussion on the words of the song.

Then the team introduced three symbols: the sieve, the sponge and the flowing plant.  They asked the Brothers which symbol best reflected how they had entered into the Orientation Programme and what they had gained from it.

Finally, they share the story of the house by the river and how the owner wanted to cross the river that had no bridge or stepping stones.  This parable prompted the group to reflect on what they needed to leave behind as they journey into the future.

This was a really fruitful day, helping the Brothers begin to think on how they are going to bring the learnings of the OP back home.

Holistic Approach to Ministry

Hedwig continued her workshop on a Rights-Based Sustainable Mission by stressing the difference between the banking approach to education and the pedagogy of the oppressed.  In the former approach, the teacher is considered the one with all the information while the student is a passive receptacle for the knowledge being handed down.  In the latter approach, the teacher is seen more as an animator who provides a framework for common problem solving.

She went on to quote from Lao Tzu who said:”Go to the people, earn from them, live with them, start with what they know, build with what they have.”  She then focused on the elements of the TST Strategy document that emphasises presence, engagement, empowerment and transformation, stressing how this approach is both respectful and effective in working with people who have been made poor.

Finally, Hedwig outlined six strategies for doing a sustainable ministry.  These strategies focus principals on the target group in question as well as on the environment of this same group.  She stressed that the focus on the environment is vital so as to support the target group once they begin to change and develop.  By neglecting the environment, we run the risk of allowing the progress that is being made to diminish due to lack of support.

Rights-Based Sustainable Development

Rights-based sustainable mission

This two-day workshop is being facilitated by Hedwig Nafula from the Wholistic Leadership Group.  Hedwig began by stressing the importance of recognising the part that God plays as we are being sent to serve.  She outlined the elements of the workshop as:

  • Learning project language
  • The move from charity, needs-based approach to a rights-base approach
  • Explore the wholistic approach to mission
  • Determining which way to go

In the session on project language, Hedwig introduced the concepts of input, output, outcomes and impact.  For some of the group, this was like learning a new language and some found it challenging to understand the differences in each of the concepts.

Later in the day, Hedwig showed how the traditional charity model of aid developed through a needs-based approach to an empowerment model until we now are stressing a rights-based development strategy.

The day concluded with a good discussion on the various elements of the various models of development.