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Thursday, 21 November 2019 18:45

State of the Heart - Joint Meeting November 2019

Written by Richard Lessard
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State of the Heart - Affiliate Joint Meeting - November, 2019 

Dear Affiliates,

The Forum beckons us once again!

Affiliate Board members and Regional Coordinators once again gathered together in the Forum, the home of the Maryknoll Sisters Mission Institute in Ossining, NY.  We return to this place each year.  In a way, it beckons us.  The spirit present in this space draws us to it.  For us, the Forum is the locus where the four pillars come together to help guide us in our discernment.  It is here we come together to pray, to share, to dialogue and to be one with all Affiliates.

I am writing to share with you my reflections on some of the more important highlights of our gathering.

The focus of this meeting by design was largely a look at ourselves, the leadership of the Affiliates, Board members and Regional Coordinators together, but in the context of our relationship with the Affiliate movement.  As the Affiliate leaders, we are called to “discern how to best guide the Affiliate movement.”  Please repeat that and take some time to ponder it.  Put yourself in my or in another leadership position.  What does this statement mean to you?  What would you do if you had this responsibility?  These were some of questions I asked those of us gathered to ponder. 

The Affiliates are in no way, shape or form a hierarchical organization in the way that most organizations are; typically visualized in the shape of a pyramid.  But the Affiliates have no head.  I and other Board members are not the head.  Bob Short, as the current Executive Coordinator is not the head.  We, individually or collectively hold no authority over any Affiliate or Chapter.  We instead are called to be servant-leaders.  So, what does that mean?  In simple terms, it means we flip the pyramid upside-down.  It means we serve and support the Affiliate movement.  It does sound simple enough on the face of it.  But again, I ask you to put yourself in my or any leadership position and think about this more deeply.  How would you do this?  What would this look like?

Throughout the duration of this meeting, I had the great pleasure of talking with many Sisters and other people during our very limited free time and at meals, and I can’t tell you how many times it was expressed to me how they wouldn’t want my “job!”  Hmm, what do I do with that?  Interestingly, I read just very recently that to be a servant can be a thankless job, full of ungracious demands and humbling circumstances.  Perhaps their expressions to me reflected this understanding of servant-leader and their perception of the difficulties/challenges this position faces. 

“The work of leaders involves hearing and identifying the long notes which play out in daily life, and which point to what is happening at a deeper level, resulting in a discerned response.”

This quote from Sr. Patricia Murray, IBVM is from the recent LCWR conference.  It struck me as very relevant for Affiliate leadership, and so I shared and reflected upon it at our joint meeting.  It served somewhat as an outline for our meeting, as well.  This quote identifies three very important tasks for us–to listen, to discern and to respond.  For me the most important and what must be foundational to the other two is listening; listening through engagement and dialogue.  If we are not doing this, then on what basis can we even consider making decisions or taking action that appropriately and effectively support of the Affiliates?  Wouldn’t you agree that those of us with the responsibility to guide, serve and support the Affiliates must have a pretty good awareness and understanding of the movement, including what is happening in it–the long notes?  And likely the best way to do this is through engagement and dialogue between Affiliates and leadership, right? 

Connection and Communication [Engagement and Dialogue]

A year ago, after having been selected as the newest Chair of the Maryknoll Affiliate Board, I shared with you my reflections of the just completed joint Board/Regional Coordinator meeting.  I shared then, the two major takeaways from that meeting: connection and communication.  Well, guess what, they made it to the top of the list again this year!  What’s this mean?  Hmmm!  Perhaps the simplest answer is that we just need to connect more and communicate more.  When I look back at Board minutes and surveys conducted over the 25+ years since our beginning, connection and communication have consistently been recognized as two of the more significant challenges of the Affiliates.  Isn’t that interestingly?  So I wonder, is it just baked in to what we are/do?  Or is it something that we can change?  I’m hoping and counting on the latter.

So, we made two attempts this year to address these challenges.  A Question of the Month initiative was started in order to connect and foster dialogue with and among Affiliates.  The other was a personal initiative of mine to connect with individual Affiliates and Chapters via phone call or video chat.   However, both initiatives found only limited participation and success.  So, recognizing that more must be done, Board members and Regional Coordinators will begin an effort to partner up in order to reach out to all Chapters to seek ways together for better and more engagement.  This can take the form of phone calls, WhatsApp chats, video chats and personal visits.  To ensure we have the correct contacts, we are in the process of validating the Chapter Contacts/Coordinators for each Chapter.  These connections are intended to be mutually beneficial.  It would seem that not only will our communications improve, and not only will our connections improve, but together we’ll be helping to build deeper relationships among the Affiliates and strengthen the bonds of our movement.  A must!

So far, I’ve talked about the responsibility of leadership.  But in reality, this responsibility can’t fall on leadership alone.  We all have a responsibility to this movement, don’t we?  Connecting and dialoguing is a two-way street; it requires a willingness and commitment among Affiliates themselves to participate in this, as well.  If our movement is to be relevant, we must all take ownership and understand the responsibility we have to each other.  And if we want the movement to thrive even more, engagement and dialogue can’t be only between Affiliates and leadership, it must be among and between all Affiliates.  We can’t encourage this enough.

And so a final thought on connecting.  Do you have a smartphone?  Please use it to help Affiliates connect.  Consider starting WhatsApp groups with Affiliates in your Chapter, your Region or any Affiliate you wish. Take the initiative to start a group focused on a specific theme or issue.  Stay in touch this way. Share stories, pictures, and events near you. If we connect this way, we are helping to make strong the connective tissue our movement needs.

Identity and Unity

Although not specially an agenda item for our meeting, but sprinkled throughout, were important discussions related to Affiliate identity.  We have three documents that in their own way describe who we are or what we are about: our Mission Statement, our Maryknoll Affiliate Identity statement and our Covenant.  I hope you know this!  These documents have been with us since our Affiliate infancy and have been foundational to the start of Affiliate Chapters.  Part of our meeting was specifically taking a look at our Covenant.  Looking back to its historical roots and what it meant then, we considered what it (or another version of it) could and/or should mean for Affiliates today.  These discussions will continue, and it is important they do.  A question that comes up: How do Affiliates claim their identity; is it through our Chapter or by how we live our lives?  I think this is an important question for all Affiliates and Chapters to consider. 

In a post-meeting gathering, a few of us considered this more and talked about ways of unifying Affiliates to the larger movement.  The Affiliate movement consists of Chapters and individual Affiliates all around the world, with many cultures and languages.  My hope is that we don’t see these differences as challenges, but instead we find in our diversity that which unifies us.  When we gathered, our little group agreed on the importance for our movement to be unified.  Not unified in the way Chapters look and act, but unified in the way our Mission Statement calls us to “. . . witness to mission as a way of life by going beyond borders, locally and globally, walking with the poor and excluded, and striving for peace and justice for all of God’s creation.”  Isn’t this what unifies us–our common call to this mission?

One suggestion offered that we agreed could help to unify Affiliates to the larger movement would be for Chapters to have a year-in-review.  Likely at years-end, Chapters can devote a meeting to review, reflect on and perhaps evaluate how the Chapter and its members have lived out our Mission Statement during the year, and then to consider for the coming year ways that the Chapter and its members might be able to better live out this Mission Statement.

Other meeting highlights

Let me close by briefly mentioning three other actions that the Board and Regional Coordinators will progress:

  • Quo Vadis? (Where are you going?) is a program initiated by the Affiliate Board several years ago.  It is designed as a service that Affiliates can provide to people in their locale who have experienced a cross-cultural experience.  It helps participants reflect on their experience and offers them a practical way of integrating the experience into their everyday lives.  A very dedicated core group is looking for help to help promote and market this program.  If you are aware of a local group or program involved in cross-cultural activities, it would be very helpful to bring this program to their attention.  Please contact Bill Murphy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  for more information and for ways you can help.
  • A small cadre will begin to look at ways of increasing the visibility of the Affiliate movement. While the new website (currently under revision) will help to do this, there are various other ways we can explore, as well.  Stay tuned for more information on this and for ways you can help.
  • Lastly, another small cadre will initiate the creation of a small group consisting of members from all four Maryknoll expressions to explore new ways we can be in mission together.

My apologies for the length of this, but there were many important things from this leadership gathering that I felt was necessary to share.  If you’ve made it this far reading, I thank you!

As the holiday season approaches, I wish to send you and your loved ones many many blessings.








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