|A Watershed Moment in the Reform MovementWatersheds are defined by their boundaries, where the land turns or slants and the water in the watershed runs a certain way. So, to say that ACC/Detroit may have demonstrated a watershed is to suggest that we may have reached a place where the landscape turns in a new or different way. We suggest that ACC was such a turning point in the landscape and raises both a challenge and an opportunity for the reform movement.
ACC’s identity warrants thoughtful mining.It can’t be captured by simply referring to it as a conference, a one-time celebration of Vatican II, or the Planning Committee that put it together. It was SOMETHING NEW, perhaps serving as a prototype of a truly national American Catholic Synod. In suggesting that, ACC tapped into a foundational GRASSROOTS “ownership” of the broader Church Reform movement. It spawned a deeper and maturing “movement” across organizational entities. Though its impetus was framed by representatives of several church reform organizations, it was a gathering of individuals, couples and faith communities who collectively gave expression to the “People of God” and not particular organizations.
The listening sessions that led up to Detroit gave voice to root causes of dysfunction in the church and not simply symptoms. Those dialogues were solution-driven and underscored that governance and leadership in the church are the primordial issue. Though many Listening Sessions were directly or indirectly hosted by established reform organizations, many sessions came out of other expressions of a broader emerging reform movement including Intentional Eucharistic Communities (IEUs), indigenous local/regional initiatives, small Christian communities, faith sharing groups, and home churches. Some were even sponsored by parishes and other expressions of the institutional church not formally aligned with the reform movement, i.e., Pax Christi, catholic university campus ministries, and religious orders. Data suggest that more than 500 of the nearly 2000 who came to Detroit had little or no prior significant involvement in reform organizations, perhaps a result of proactive efforts to outreach to new folks, some of whom likely connected only through ACC’s “virtual” presence on the internet.
ACC as new wine and a need for new wineskins.
The challenge now is to come up with the new wineskins to nurture this new reality. Though we may seek to maintain the “movement” identity of ACC over the a formal “organizational” identity, there is still a need to think strategically in ways to frame a level of organizational infrastructure to sustain that grassroots movement. The new wine includes several ingredients that comprise the elements of ACC’s legacy, all of which warrant good stewardship. Among them are the following:
(1)The Catholic Bill of Rights and Responsibilities (CBRR): This is a major “product” of ACC and should be the focus of continued education and formation of adult Catholics grounded in Vatican II.
(2) A focus on the Grassroots: Through listening sessions, many local communities found courage to give voice to their deepest thoughts and feelings and become empowered to act. We need to sustain that movement “down below.”
(3) The ACN (Assemblies Community Network): We haven’t begun to fully tap this tool’s capacity to facilitate organizing in the grassroots. With over 1000 “members” signed up to this online social network (and still growing), the ACN is iconic of the grassroots identity of the ACC. It has potential to be far more than mere online “discussion forums.” Through its feature to create “planning groups,” the ACN provide a means for local communities to organize and act. By searching the member database, individuals can connect with others in their area, send messages without disclosing email addresses, post their “events” to the ACC calendar, and share resources by downloading and uploading files.
(4) A database of nearly 4000 activists: This is testimony to the erosion of the so-called “fear factor” that has often inhibited strategic reform action. More and more of us are finding courage to stand up and say “no more.” We are ready to “jump” (a notion we heard more than once in Detroit) in active resistance to the dysfunctions in the church.
(5) Residual Funds: We move forward with small but significant pot of residual funds to “seed” next steps, whether in the form of projects carried out in the name of ACC or mini-grants to established reform organizations to carry out projects that advance the ACC agenda.
Action for Reform Grounded in Contemplative Spirituality
Beyond all this, feedback suggests that ACC has also gifted the reform movement with a budding contemplative spirituality to undergird our collaborative efforts. Many remarked that spirituality was more evident in Detroit than most other reform “events” and that the “spirit” in Detroit was particularly prayerful, reflective, joyful, loving and hopeful. In the months since Detroit, there has been growing discussion of the need for a solid grounding in contemplative spirituality that encompasses both prayer and action. There is a very vibrant discussion on this very theme on the Assemblies Community Network (Contemplative Spirituality & Church Reform). This may be ACC’s most significant legacy, that is, the blossoming of a spirituality of nonviolent resistance, grounded in the contemplative spirituality of activists who are centered in the love and compassion of Christ, empowering them to stand up to the institutional church and negotiate the turbulent waters of institutional change.
In saying all this, we would be remiss if we did not recognize the gifts of so many who have gone before us in the struggle, particularly the various reform organizations that have pre-existed ACC, some of whom gave active support to the ACC. Each of these groups surely has expertise in particular areas of the “reform agenda,” and may have a role to play as “agents of implementation” for one or more elements of the developing ACC “action plan.” At the same time, these organizations are challenged to engage the bigger picture that ACC clearly painted. We humbly suggest that it is incumbent on these fine organizations to find ways to collaborate across their missions and play their part under the “big tent” of the emerging grassroots movement for change.
We Invite Your Feedback: Please share your thoughts on the future of the Church Reform movement, and to consider what role, if any, that ACC might play. There are two ways you can do that. One is to attend the ACC Caucus in Milwaukee next weekend, if you will be in attendance at the Call to Action Conference. See Sidebar notice. The other means is to post your comments to three new online discussion forums about the the future of ACC.
ACC Mission in the Grassroots: This forum considers how ACC can nurture the continued ownership and leadership of the church reform movement in the GRASSROOTS.
ACC Relationship with COR and other Reform GroupsThis forum cosiders how ACC might coordinate with Catholic Organizations for Renewal and other expressions of the larger Church Reform Movement in the U.S.