“The communion of the Church is weakened and the Church’s mission to the world is weakened when even one of God’s faithful does not participate in communion and in mission.”
Archbishop Stephen Brislin of Cape Town
“For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission”
Synod 2021 – 2023
The three pillars of the synod—communion, participation and mission—are like three legs of a potjie cooking pot; if one is missing, we risk losing the stew and will be without food for this special journey the pope has invited us to take.
This was the analogy the Most Rev. Stephen Brislin, the Archbishop of Cape Town, offered in his sermon as he opened the synod in his archdiocese this past Sunday. “Each and every one is needed,” he said, making it clear that if this process is to have good fruits, we cannot exclude anyone from the discussions. “The synod is a process of listening, of being open to hearing from the faith and experience of others,” he added. “It is not about any one person or group attempting to lobby or promote their own ideologies or even ideas.”
“Participation” is a key disposition needed for those walking the synodal way. All people form the body of Christ; to deliberately exclude one is to dishonour that unity in which we all share. It is not easy to open ourselves to honest and frank dialogue with another because it challenges us to reflect more deeply about our most prized beliefs and to open these to the scrutiny of others.
Jesus was open to dialogue and moved by the plight of others changed his mind, quite often in fact. Consider the wedding at Cana, where he initially refused his mother’s request for him to provide more wine but later relented (Jn 2:1-12). Or what about when he was reluctant to heal the evil-possessed daughter of the Canaanite woman because it was outside the scope of his mission and then, moved by the mother’s faith, heals the daughter instantly (Mt 15:21-28).
While participation is only one leg of the potjie pot, it is a critical step to ensuring the realisation of the other two. I can’t be communion, the body of Christ, on my own. And I can’t solve the problems of the church and the world on my own—it is a mission given to all of God’s people—we are saved not as individuals but as a holy people.
How do we form people, especially those who hold roles of responsibility within the Christian community, to make them more capable of “journeying together,” listening to one another and engaging in dialogue?