Practicing Communal Discernment

By on January 1, 2021

Last summer I decided to take advantage of courses being offered by Zoom. I signed up for VST’s “Practicing Communal Discernment” which took me into a rich world of texts on how and why Christians have come together to contemplate God’s direction since the early days of casting lots. I have to admit that while we were living under pandemic circumstances already in July, there was not an obvious sense of how we as a church would need to engage these practices in our current reality. I’m not sure if we really thought churches would go back to the way they were before, but in the pause, we didn’t yet have an understanding of the process ahead. Of course, we are now acknowledging that we are in a liminal time – no longer who we were and not yet who we will be. In our diocese I’m hearing questions like ‘How has this pandemic changed our prayer life?’ and ‘What might God be saying to us through the pandemic?’.

While statistics of all kinds are being collected over this pandemic, and certainly in our church too, collectively discerning what God is saying to us and where we are being led as a church is not nearly so linear a process. Even amid the difficulties and grief of living, God is doing more than we could ask or even imagine. The most obvious part of discernment, though by no means the easiest, is showing up. Some days this means just putting one foot in front of the other. But if we as a whole can stay present to look with our soul, our heart, our minds and our ears, this is showing up in the way God calls us to. Which goes hand in hand with prayer. Showing up and listening in God’s presence, with words and in silence, both with others and on our own, laying at God’s feet our fears and delights, hopes and questions for where we are being led becomes a stance. With hands and heart cracked open we ask that God’s will be done.

Part of discernment is to name what it is we are hearing. Sometimes we know things as clearly as a neon sign while other times we must hear the whispers between the words. Then we form the words on our tongue and say them out loud. Do they feel right or perhaps strange? We consult with others to see if it’s true for them too. Are heads nodding? Do we need to take a step back or are we ready to go forward again? Are we ready to make any decisions (no matter how small)? With any discernment made, we can then pause, wait on it and ask God that we be confirmed in it. Humility and trusting play a huge role here. Often, we must hold on to our hats and ride out some turbulence while waiting. Doubt, second thoughts, and a whole lot of static can also be present. Trusting God while trusting the process becomes our mission. We are in the right place. We are not alone.

Living through a pandemic and discerning God’s will have this in common: we can do it in baby steps. Making the next right step, then the next right step, then the next right step is trusting God even when we don’t know what the end looks like. And WOW! Are we flexing this muscle! We can’t imagine what new thing God is doing in us, even while we live through a great deal of uncertainty, restrictions and even sabbath time. But we can trust that it IS happening. And like so many things, we will only see how far we have come when we look back and see our tracks in the snow. May God be with us in each step.


  • Karen Archibald

    Karen Archibald is a member of the Spiritual Development Committee.

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