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:
- 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.