The meaning of Synod and synodality

By Steve Atherton, Justice and Peace fieldworker

Synod, we are told, means ‘walking together’. The Justice and Peace Commission began its involvement with the diocesan Synod by organising a series of events during the Eucharistic Congress. We looked at how an expansive understanding of Eucharist is central to our lives, involving our understanding of who we are, our relationships with each other, and with the world around us. The experience of talking, planning and meeting people helped us to grow in understanding the rich complexity of our experience of Church. 

This year the Commission’s usual work has continued – including greetings cards for prisoners and parishes in the Holy Land; developing resources for parish groups; work on inequality and the environment; organising ‘The Palestinian Paintings’ exhibition; and the celebration of St Oscar Romero – yet in addition we have devoted four meetings to reflection on the themes of our diocesan Synod, generating plenty of work for those who have to coordinate all the proposals.

The more we have prayed, pondered and written proposals, the more it has become natural to think that we are involved in shaping the future of the Archdiocese, that we are involved in discerning where the Spirit is moving, that we really are walking together towards a new future where the people of God, in their different roles and with their different experiences, are of equal value. 

As we have been getting involved, the noises coming from Rome and from Pope Francis have been that this process – almost a procession – is happening across the worldwide Church. In 2018, the International Theological Commission, which advises the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published a document on the topic ‘Synodality in the Life and Mission of the Church’. 

They wrote: ‘A synodal Church is a Church of participation and co-responsibility. In exercising synodality she is called to give expression to the participation of all, according to each one's calling, with the authority conferred by Christ on the College of Bishops headed by the pope. Participation is based on the fact that all the faithful are qualified and called to serve each other through the gifts they have all received from the Holy Spirit.’ 

The Church isn’t trying to become a democracy but to become better at listening to those who live in difficult circumstances and at valuing the wealth and breadth of human experience. The Synod on the Amazon attracted the attention of the world, the German bishops are preparing a Synod, and the Pope has called a meeting of bishops for 2022 with the theme ‘For a synodal Church: communion, participation and mission’ – effectively a synod about synods. 

In the world context, our Liverpool Synod may be a relatively small event but I’m delighted to say that the J&P Commission began its involvement in the process with great enthusiasm and, as we near the end, we have a sense of excited anticipation. May the Spirit be with us all.