2020 Community Gathering

The woman left her water jar and went into the town and said to the people, “Come see a man who told me everything I have done. Could he possibly be the Messiah? … Many more began to believe in him because of his word …” (John 4: 28-29, 41)

Jesus showed by example how to engage with the world. Through the power of his resurrection, Christians are challenged to meet Jesus at the well, to return to Galilee to share the Good News with others and to do his mission in the world.

On October 9-10, Sisters of the Presentation and their associates gathered “at the well” for a virtual 2020 Community Days. Using video conferencing, about 75 individuals reflected on the theme, Conversations at the Well: Deepening Radical Hospitality. Sister Carol Crepeau, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph (CSJ) from LaGrange, Illinois, facilitated the first two days. Sister Carol has worked with the Presentation congregation in its planning process since 2018.

Conversations at the Well

On the first day, attendees “zoomed in” to hear Sister Sophia Park, SNJM, associate professor in the religious studies and philosophy department at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. She is a member of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary. Previous to October, sisters and associates had read and discussed Sister Sophia’s book, Conversations at the Well: Emerging Religious Life in the 21st Century Global World, which provided background for the gathering. Sharing in small groups and coming together to have conversation with Sister Sophia gave participants opportunity to articulate insights on the future of religious life and shared mission.

“The experience was a great beginning of conversation for us and gave me hope for believing in the future of religious life,” states Sister Joan Brincks. “I appreciated Sister Sophia Park’s delightful spirit and the chance for us to have conversations with each other.”

Sister Sophia explains in Conversations at the Well that religious life is now in a “liminal” or “middle space.” Religious congregations must understand that in such a time, the former way of being is challenged. As in the current pandemic time, they are not in control. Yet, it is a graced time. Neither “the past or old model of religious life” nor “the future of religious life” ought to be the focus.

“… Religious women [and associates] live and serve … in the reality of a multicultural and interreligious world, engaging with others and residing on the margin spiritually and socially,” Sister Sophia adds. Thus, during this “middle time” Dubuque Presentation Sisters have chosen to reflect and have conversations and be open to the transformation.

“We met one another in Conversations at the Well,” says Sister Raeleen Sweeney. “We began through a book and videos, followed by meeting with the author Sophia Park and then brought her message alive in our small group conversations. From Sophia’s Korean heritage and sharing of international experiences, we had an intercultural experience. It is now our turn to hear ‘the message.’ Not unlike those who first heard the missionaries speaking another language, eventually, when we listen deeply to others, we are ready to hear each other.”

Like the woman who met Jesus at the well, the Community Days process invited participants to reflect on the realities of their world and their lives, to have a life-changing experience and, together, to move forward.

“I appreciated seeing everyone and having the opportunity to hear a variety of voices open to possibilities and hope in our often uncertain and chaotic world,” comments Sister
Diana Blong. “For me, what has continued to reverberate is Sister Sophia’s invitation to ‘share our narratives’ with one another. In our present pandemic world, where our physical contacts are limited, we are still called to encounter one another, to listen, not only with our ears, but also with our hearts. Sister Sophia’s account of engaging a struggling passerby led to discovering a commonality of experience and the challenge to be open to transformation by others.”

Not only is this a “middle time” for the Presentation congregation to reflect and be open to the future, but it is also a time to imagine creatively how living the Gospel mission can contribute to a sustainable future for all. Listening to the Spirit can energize and deepen the Presentation expression of the Holy Spirit and our charism of radical hospitality.

“From Sister Sophia’s sharing, I took a number of ideas for more reflection: I must be open to the unknown, lean into the Spirit and be open to where the Spirit is leading me,” shares Associate Anastasia Nicklaus-Schmelzer. “I can pray, ‘God, what do you want to give me today? What do you want to take from me?’ We were truly connected in the online sharing and I enjoyed getting so many perspectives. It was a wonderful way to witness to each other about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. From the inspiration of this gathering, I can deepen radical hospitality in my life and in my parish ministry.”

Promise Group Updates

COVID-19, Black lives, immigrant families at the border, discrimination against persons of color, gun violence, non-violent protest, effects of global warming on those made poor, respect for others of differing views – the list goes on.

In 2018 the Sisters of the Presentation renewed their commitment to mission through four promises: to live radical hospitality; to practice non-violence; to form partnerships and utilize resources for mission; and to implement governance with dialogue and communication for decision-making. Energized by the work of four promise groups through 2019 and 2020, sisters and associates spent the second day of Community Days hearing how each group had identified ways to live out these promises.

“I was really impressed with the promise groups’ presentations and small group sharing. People did real sharing and my outlook was broadened by the promises made in 2018,” remarks Associate Carol Kane. “Learning more about racism has influenced me to purchase, for my own reading, the book Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson and to order more copies to share with family and friends.”

Associate Linda Dolphin sums up her thoughts saying, “During 2020 Community Days, I participated in conversations about the future of religious life and I took part in discussions related to the promise groups. Sophia Park commented that ‘We are standing at the threshold where the Spirit will guide us.’ She also suggested that ‘the future depends on living mission interculturally.’ The non-violence promise group, of which I am a member, is working on personal acceptance of various cultures, along with ways to promote non-violence toward others and toward our planet. I appreciate the encouraging comments and suggestions from those attending. I liked Sophia’s comments encouraging everyone to be enthusiastic and hopeful about the future and ‘Do whatever comes with vitality!’ Community Days were spiritually rich and I am so grateful to have participated as an associate.”

From conversations about the four promises and the ongoing work of the promise groups, Sisters of the Presentation and their associates affirmed the continued work of education for anti-racism and non-violence. They suggested ongoing planning for the property and buildings by a committee, and focus on partnerships and resources for mission. They affirmed the deepening of their commitment to collaboration, shared responsibility and dialogue.

Being together virtually presented the challenge to let go, to see with a new vision, to dream more dreams and to be holders of God’s vision encountered at the well of life-giving water.

Commitment to Mission through these four promises:

We promise to live radical hospitality in all relationships, especially with people made poor.

• We will educate ourselves and others to better understand our own racism.

• We will commit personally to learn about other racial and ethnic groups through personal relationships.

• We will advocate for and support the reunification of unaccompanied minors and their mothers at the border.

We promise to practice non-violence of mind and heart, speech and action as we address injustice directly and systemically.

• We will educate and practice non-violence toward self, others and all creation through reading and study; hosting a violence-prevention training event.

• We will offer prayer experiences about non-violence toward self, others and all creation.

• We will practice active non-violence locally and engage with global grassroots movements of non-violence.

We promise to form partnerships and utilize resources for the purpose of mission.

• Within the context of mission sustainability, care of members and legacy, we will study, research, develop and initiate implementation of a phased plan for property and resources of Sisters of the Presentation, Dubuque, Iowa.

We promise to implement governance practices that foster dialogue and communication in decision-making.

• We will create opportunities among Promise Groups and others to engage in communication about our shared future.

• We will research models of leadership and governance to identify and propose practices that promote dialogue and communication in decision-making.