Approximately eighty-five million meetings occur every day. It is clear from this figure that meetings are highly important, they shape our world. The Spirit works in every group, and as Christian participants at meetings we must go beyond passivity and place ourselves at the service of the Spirit. In meetings, we can act as the Spirit’s voice, becoming a still point, a prayerful and reflective presence.
Meetings Matter! evolved from an MA module directed by the authors for the past eight years in the Milltown Institute. This book can be used to help promote and support a group environment of respect, listening and inner freedom. It offers practical advice on how to deal with conflict, different personality types and various problems that may arise within a group dynamic, all in an easy to read, user-friendly format. This book is a must-have for anyone involved in meetings, small or large, parochial or corporate.
||Brian Grogan SJ is former President of Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy in Dublin. He specialises in Ignatian spirituality and his books for Veritas include Alone and on Foot: Ignatius of Loyola (2009) and Where to From Here: The Christian Vision of Life After Death (2011).
Phyllis Brady, MA, MMin, lectures at Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy and at All Hallows College, Dublin. A founder member of the Spiritual Guidance and Supervisors’ Associations of Ireland (AISGA and SAI), she offers group and individual supervision and spiritual guidance. She has designed and coordinated prayer projects in the Diocese of Dublin and at Knock Shrine, Mayo.
Phylis Brady and Brian Grogan teach a course in Spirituality and Skills for Meetings and this short book encapsulates a great deal of the practical wisdom and deep insight that they have learned from their preparation and delivery of this course. Meetings are an ordinary part of so many people's lives and most can express opinions about their experience of the meetings they have participated in, but who really reflects on God's place at a meeting? Informed by the sound wisdom and practical common sense of these authors the reader will be invited to reflect on the process and experience of meetings from a faith perspective. The authors have a conviction that God is present, especially at meetings! When people gather purposefully to work together, hidden in the process, in the struggle, among the personalities, there is a divine dimension, God working with us to achieve something of value. The thirteen chapters are short, following a common threefold structure of input, points to ponder and a summary and are complemented by three appendices. The text which is well illustrated with examples of meetings, introduces a very familiar world and in a deceptively simple style distils learning from a wide range of disciplines. The authors engage the reader by painting a picture of personality types, behavioural patterns, and reflective process common to meetings, while inviting the reader to take cognisance of their personal experience. Ignatian spirituality, combined with a myriad of insights from Christian tradition, provoke, and stimulate the reader. A little like a barley sugar sweet this book is slowly absorbed, not consumed hastily, and enriches as the insights, teachings and challenges are taken into heart, mind and soul. A very worthwhile reflective read for all who seek to enhance their personal contribution to meetings and assist others to benefit from `wisest love'.
- Joe Mullan, The Furrow, Nov 2010
The main thrust of this book would appear to be about conducting meetings in a parish setting although the authors believe that there are lessons here for those involved in meetings in a secular setting also. The basic idea is that a divine agenda underlies every meeting and so the purpose of the meeting is to let that spiritual side come though. However that the main thrust is religious is revealed in chapter titles like Let the Real God Speak, Recognising the Spirit and Keeping God in View: the role of prayer. 0n the other hand the more practical aspects come through in chapters on group dynamics, social decision- making and conflict resolution, for example. The appendices look at group skills, self-evaluation, body language and the meeting as a contemplative experience. ln a church which is becoming more responsive to the needs and views of its lay members and where parochial meetings are becoming the norm this may prove a valuable guide to how to combine the practical aspects of implementing an agenda with the spiritual
- Books Ireland, December 2009
To those of us who are veterans of many meetings, the awareness that God is active in them offers an exciting challenge.
- Dr Patrick Nolan, Former Chair of the Marketing Institute
Compulsive reading for those of us who abhor meetings but cant get on without them. A divine agenda underlies every meeting, so we experience the living God in the here and now.
- Fr Denis Nulty, PP, St Marys, Drogheda
The spirituality outlined here will deepen the vision and enthusiasm of Christians who attend meetings. Each of us is to be a spokesperson for the Spirit and our concern should be the divine agenda rather than our own.
- Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland
Anyone who has ever been involved in meetings, whether at cabinet and bank board level, or that of parish council or local club, will know well that meetings are often contentious and disagreeable affairs. Yet, as these authors wisely remind us, little can be achieved without accord and without coming to agreement in the end. This is a little book to be widely recommended. It evolved from a course that they gave in the Milltown Institute.
Much of it is written with an emphasis on religious groups, but the lessons they impart of patience, tolerance and basic Christian sympathy with others are ones that can be carried into a much wider world. Many people loathe meetings, and try to avoid them. But they are necessary in the scheme of things. If we have to live with them, we should live them fully. We should be open to the movement of the Holy Spirit through them - some might call that a breath of fresh air.
- The Irish Catholic, 11 February 2010
It has been said that meetings are held by a group of people who keep minutes and waste hours and few of us on our deathbed will probably regret meetings we missed. But such a negative view has been forcefully challenged in a new publication by Phyllis Brady and Brian Gogan SJ in Meetings Matter! where they present an enthusiastic vision of meetings as places where faith can transform passivity and apathy into engagement and passion. This transformation occurs when we recognise that it is Gods agenda we are pursuing when we are trying to be artisans for a new humanity as expressed by Vatican II. And one of the central themes of this particular guide for meetings is that as Christians we are actually called both to speak for God and to allow God to speak at meetings. Under chapter headings which include: Recognising the Spirit, Forming a Cohesive Group, Group Dynamics and Individual Styles, Conflict Resolution as well as another on Self Evaluation Regarding Group Skills, Brady and Gogan have provided a dynamic tool kit already tested by them over many years for the use of those involved in meetings on a regular basis, whether parochial or corporate. This is one volume that should be filed under Really Useful Books in anyones library. At the very least it could radically change the way you think about and enact meetings.
Fr Paul Clayton-Lea, Clogherhead, Co Louth
Intercom, May 2010
The goal of Christianity is clear: love of God and neighbour. Our focus is on the command to love our neighbour as ourselves, and within that vast and unending agenda, our concern is with groups and meetings, since the decisions made there shape the lives of others for good or ill. According to a recent statistic, eighty-five million meetings occur every day. Whether this figure is accurate or not, it is clear that meetings are highly important; they shape our world. Hence the relevance of this book, which grew out of an MA course in Applied Spirituality directed by us for the past eight years in the Milltown Institute of Theology and Philosophy, Dublin.
Our focus is on the often ignored faith dimension of meetings. When viewed through the light of faith, the elements of an ordinary meeting are transformed. Our thesis is that God is involved with groups and uses our help there to achieve the common good. We are, in fact, presenting a spirituality of meetings.
We argue that the Spirit works in every group and that as Christian participants at meetings, we must go beyond passivity and place ourselves at the service of the Spirit. By being a listening post for the Spirit, we support the Spirits work and act as the Spirits human voice.
Adults bring a wealth of gifts and experience to their study. Often they already know in some way what they are learning. The dynamics of adult learning are used in this book. You, the reader, may be the veteran of many meetings and so are invited throughout to relate what is proposed here to your experience, and so to make your meetings more constructive. If you are the leader, the facilitator or the chairperson, you have a certain delegated power to influence the group, but even if you hold no specific role, you are not powerless. As we shall see, you can play an influential role as an enabler or mentor, for you are not alone but acting for the Spirit.
It is certainly hard to both participate in a group and also watch out for its dynamics. We come to meetings with our own values and agendas, and it is an art , but one which can be learned, as our students tell us , to be able to stand back from our personal involvement to see what is going on in the group. Ideally, every group should have a facilitator whose concern is totally with the process, but this will not be the case in most meetings. Therefore, you have to play something of the facilitators role and make this a priority over your own personal concerns.
Often you may feel alone and powerless in your concern for the divine agenda. In fact, however, someone greater is also there, even if incognito, and is working with power. But God does not like to work alone. God prefers a divine and human partnership to bring about the lasting good of humankind. The task of the mentor links in with the Hebrew prophetic tradition, where the Spirit constantly intervenes through the prophet: Go and tell them this Individuals are singled out to be spokespersons of God: Speak in my name!
Within Ireland alone, we can list many lay people who responded to the call of the Spirit. Think of Nano Nagle, Edmund Rice, Teresa Ball, Mary Aikenhead, Catherine McAuley, Margaret Aylward , each of these has left an enduring mark through the congregations they established. Bono, Bob Geldof, Ali Hewson, Niall Mellon, John OShea, Adi Roche and many others carry the torch in our day and in turn inspire others with their dreams and energy. The Spirit nudges us also to engage with God in a less dramatic but still important fashion.
In the cut and thrust of lively and intense meetings, the use of the skills set out here presents a considerable challenge , this explains the strong emphasis on the theory and the theology of engagement. While you can learn a set of group skills quite quickly, without the vision set out here you will not persist with them in difficult situations, for without vision, the people perish (Prov 29:18, Douai version). If, however, you are already at home with the theory, and if you truly accept that God asks you to be an artisan of the new humanity, as Vatican II puts it, then you can focus more on the praxis sections.
While our concern is with decision-making within groups, you may feel the need to enrich your own personal decisionmaking processes. You might consult Elizabeth Lieberts The Way of Discernment for a variety of spiritual practices, which can be helpful to the individual. We are not trying to cover everything about meetings, but just to indicate some of their key elements. If you wish to learn more you can attend workshops led by us, or read further on specific areas of interest. Publishing details of books used in the text are given at the end of the book, as is a separate list of works that formed the background to our thinking.
Our thanks to the students whose experience and wisdom are enshrined here. They helped us to blend practice with theory, and to match insights with operative skills, while in turn the course enabled them to participate in meetings more effectively and more enjoyably. Thanks also to our colleagues at the Milltown Institute and All Hallows College, Dublin, and to the staff at Veritas for their expertise, support and patience.
THE CHALLENGE TO ENGAGE
WHY SHOULD I ENGAGE?
Our focus is on how you can play a more significant role in groups and meetings, and it is the Christian vision that is articulated here. You do not have to be a Christian, but if you are there follows a certain vision of Gods world and of how God needs your help in transforming it. At the heart of that Christian vision is the Holy Spirit, who engages with us as we debate the way forward. The Spirit, of course, is not confined to attending meetings of Christians alone, but the Spirit may rightly expect Christians to be in the forefront of Gods call to action to transform a broken and pain-filled world.
The need for such action is clear when you watch the news, with its endless stories about the misuse of the worlds goods and the unfair treatment of so many of its inhabitants. The news reveals greed, selfishness, corruption, deceit, unethical behaviour, various forms of abuse, institutionalised violence, murder, wars, exclusion, ecological pollution, and so forth. This can understandably make good people despair of making any worthwhile contribution to a better future for themselves or their children. But, in the Christian vision, passivity and hopelessness in the face of the worlds problems are not an option. Why? Because the world is Gods, it is sustained, loved and cared for by God (Jn 3:16). God gives us energy, wisdom and skill to bring it to rights.
A LEGEND: WHO SPEAKS FOR WOLF?
An Iroquois myth tells of a moment in the tribes history when the council of the braves met to decide on where to move for the next hunting season. The place chosen was, in fact, occupied by wolves, which attacked and killed many of them. The remaining members had to choose: either kill the wolves or move elsewhere. But killing the wolves would make them the sort of people they did not want to be, and so they chose to move on. To avoid repeating their earlier error, they decided that in all future council meetings someone should be appointed to represent the wolf. The contribution of the representative would be invited with the question: Who speaks for wolf?
WHO SPEAKS FOR GOD?
The central issue in this book is, Who speaks for God? You are invited to consider whether it may in fact be your task to represent God at meetings and to speak for him. This can be both an exciting and a demanding challenge, especially since at most meetings Gods concerns are not, at least explicitly, part of the agenda. When you accept the challenge to speak for God and learn the needed skills, you will find that meetings are transformed. You will have a new lens with which to view what is going on, and you can often unobtrusively help to focus the group toward what is most productive. You will also have the sense of partnering the Good Spirit in the task of shaping a better world.
AN ARTICULATE LAITY
Over many centuries, a paralysing passivity has dominated the minds of most Christians. Why is this? Originally the Church was seen as a fellowship (koinonia, 1 Jn 1:1-5), a community in the world distinguished by its special relationship to God through Jesus Christ. Each of the members had their own God-given gifts, which were to be at the service of others (1 Pt 4:10). Soon, however, before AD 100, the clergy began to be viewed as more important, more holy, than their fellow Christians, who were then called laity, which came from the Greek word for people. Whereas earlier the Christian community was surrounded by a secular world, now the clergy were the holy group surrounded by a secular laity in a hostile world. Church officials adopted the trappings of secular society. Liturgy was performed by the clergy before a passive laity, in a language they could not understand. Nor were the laity educated to deal with secular affairs; that was the domain of the secular prince or ruler. Although it has long been noted that, For evil to succeed, it is enough for good people to do nothing, the power structures of the Church meant that good Christians had little scope to engage in public affairs. Obedience, subordination and passivity were the characteristics desirable in the laity.
It comes as a surprise to most Christians to be told that they are meant to be actively engaged and participative in the concerns of the Church and of the world. Yet that is the teaching of Vatican II, and that Council is already almost half a century old. A few quotations must suffice to illustrate the importance of the laity in the Council documents.
THE CALL OF THE CHURCH IN VATICAN II
It is the special vocation of the laity to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to Gods will ... There they are called by God to contribute to the sanctification of the world from within, like leaven (Lumen gentium, 31).
[E]ven when occupied with temporal affairs, the laity can and must be involved in the precious work of evangelizing the world (Lumen gentium, 35).
[The laity] should collaborate ... with all men and women of good will ... Those who travel abroad on international activities, on business or on holiday should keep in mind that no matter where they may be they are the travelling messengers of Christ, and should conduct themselves as such (Apostolican actuositatem, 8; 14).
Then, under the necessary help of divine grace, there will arise a generation of new women and men, the molders of a new humanity (Gaudium et spes, 30).
I WOULDNT KNOW WHAT TO SAY!
The challenge to Catholics to engage in the worlds affairs is clearly a basic and recurring theme in Vatican II. How could it be otherwise, once the bishops began to reflect on the Church in the modern world? For it is the laity who make the Church present; clergy form a tiny percentage of the people of God. Twenty-five years after the Council, however, John- Paul II, aware of the resistance within the hierarchical Church to engage the laity fully, wrote Christifideles Laici (The Vocation and Mission of the Lay Faithful, 1989). A guiding image in this document is the Parable of the Vineyard, with its leading question: Why do you stand here idle? Because no one has hired us, is the response. To which the owner of the vineyard replies: Go you too into my vineyard. The vineyard is the whole world, which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the kingdom of God. No one, says the pope, should remain idle in face of the needs of our times. Each lay person is personally and uniquely called by the Lord. The laity are the Church; this is their fundamental dignity, and they are on a level of equality with all others within the people of God. Their task is now what Christs was: to promote the kingdom of God and to participate in the work of creation. They are coworkers with God and with the hierarchy for the good of the world. Aware of their own unique dignity, the laity are to promote the dignity of the human person everywhere.
Such is a brief paraphrase of this stirring papal request for the laity to engage in the work of the Church. It is sad that this call has been echoed by few bishops and pastors as yet, but the laity must now be proactive in facing the needs of our times.
THE CHURCHS BEST KEPT SECRET!
Once you find yourself inside the vineyard, you need to know how to care for the vines. Where can you learn about the concerns of God in regard to the issues that may arise? The social teaching of the Christian Churches over the past century is extraordinarily rich in insights that could help to transform political, economic, ecclesial and social life, but this teaching often seems to be a well-kept secret. The better your grounding in the social teaching of the Church, the more wisdom you will be able to bring to the issues on the table. Consultants earn millions in providing expert advice at public hearings. Expert knowledge demands long study and analysis, for instance, regarding the ecological and social impact of a new energy development. Knowledge of Christian social teaching will give you a solid base from which to make helpful interventions. And if youre not the expert type you can still access knowledge at short notice, if you know where to look. To access helpful material, use the indices of Vatican II: Constitutions, Decrees, Declarations, the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought and the New Catholic Encyclopedia.
HISTORY AS A WORK OF ART
Every human being is an artist, and their work of art is their life. Every one of us is continually in the process of constructing our lives by every decision we make. Ignatius wrote his Rules for the Discernment of Spirits for Christians who wish to practice the art of making good decisions, the practical decisions that with the help of Gods grace can make them authentic human beings living an authentic human life.
(J.L. Connor (ed.), The Dynamism of Desire, p. 398)
We may add that together we are meant to shape human history into a work of art! Imagine a global work of art to which everyone contributes , it evokes and respects the creativity of everyone and it radiates beauty and joy. Such is what human history is meant to be. We could despair that history is not like that, but Gods intention is to make it so. Each of us is asked only to ensure that our own small corner of the canvas has something of the quality of a work of art, or to use another image, that the drama we play out in our lives matches the theme of the divine drama of the universe.
A member of a parish council commented on his experience as follows:
We muddle along as best we can. Theres plenty of goodwill, but we seem to waste a lot of time. Were not focused. I dont know what to do about it and I often feel like dropping out. I feel Id be laughed at if I intervened I dont have much sense of God at these meetings.
Has this been something of your experience at meetings? If so, do the challenges outlined above give you ideas on how things might be improved?
* God has a vision for the world and it should be a central point of reference at meetings.
* Since meetings matter to God, they should matter to us, no matter how poorly they may be run!
* According to Vatican II, we are to be the artisans of a new humanity.
* We are called as Christians to speak for God at meetings.