Seeds of Change Chapter 12: Educate, train, and offer spiritual formation to all participants in the project
The thirteenth in the Seeds of Change series: 20 strategies for systemic change described by members of the Vincentian Family’s Commission for Promoting Systemic Change. Sister Ellen Flynn, D.C. writes:
Systemic Change Strategy 12: Educate, train and offer spiritual formation to all participants in the project.
One of the clearest examples of spiritual formation underpinning Systemic Change is found in the Philippines amongst the Daughters of Charity.
Since 1990 one of their major directions in the area of pastoral ministry has been the formation of Basic Ecclesial Communities as a way of building communities, forming people in the faith and enabling them to work for social transformation. It is a formation process that is holistic, participative, transformative, and rooted in a spirituality of social transformation.
While food, clothing, shelter, good sanitary conditions, and work are fundamental for emerging from poverty, the life of the spirit is crucial for integral human development. Vincent showed a great interest in the spiritual formation of all those who in one way or another shared his mission and his vision.
The building of Basic Ecclesial Communities (BECs) is a process that is formative by its nature. This is what makes it so powerful. It brings both the workers and the communities into dialogue on several levels: workers and communities, private life and social realities, faith and life. It enables people to think critically, take responsibility for their decisions and reclaim power over their lives.
The particular experience of building BECs in San Jose, Occidental Mindoro is exemplary in its integration of education, training, faith formation and social change. The parish, the Priest and the Sisters are all essential to the process which involves the whole community.
The formation and training of BEC pastoral workers and leaders, and insertion into the life of the community through regular visits to their homes became a simultaneous and complementary process.
A crucial phase of the process of BEC building was the stage of formation and internalization of the faith, values, knowledge and skills upon which a typical community is built. Through regular (weekly and monthly) community meetings, formation sessions and dialogue sessions, the community, especially the leaders, began to understand the vision, mission, processes and structures of a Basic Ecclesial Community. Formation is an indispensable component of the BEC, and the lifeblood of community sustainability.
Directed towards faith formation, social consciousness, the strengthening of community spirit and the sustainability of other programs, it addressed the total life of the members of the community considering their context and culture. At the start of the program, formation was the task of the BEC program coordinators and pastoral workers, but a Community Formation Team eventually took over this work.
The Formation program included topics on spirituality, leadership, the Bible and human formation. This deepening foundation in faith strengthened the people to identify their social, political, economic, cultural and ecological needs through community-reflection sessions, participatory research, and preliminary social investigation.
From among their many concerns, the community prioritized that which they most wanted and were ready to address. Component programs were formulated to respond to these needs. These included income-generating programs, cooperatives, loan assistance, agricultural programs and a community-based health program. Leaders for these programs were chosen from among the villagers and were trained in new responsibilities.
Today, 16 years after the BEC Program was initiated, the eight Basic Ecclesial Communities have moved “…from a complex of human inferiority to … participation in life” … and the journey continues even as indicators today show that they have become active and responsible “agents of their own promotion.”
Whilst this is a very clear example of the working out of this week’s chosen strategy, it depends on parish and a faith community for its obviously significant success.
Others who work outside the Church structures may have to take another route but to the same end. This is illustrated by the Clancy Night Shelter project in Dublin, Ireland. This is a project for young people sleeping on the streets of Dublin and was the first project of the Depaul Trust in Ireland. Being a first project, the training and formation elements were critical for carrying out the work. Using their own words:
- We had to establish a comprehensive training and formation program for staff and managers in the organization as well as ensure that critical questions were always kept on the agenda so that the service did not change gradually without us noticing (something that happens often but only noticeable in hindsight).
- Staff were trained and informed in critical areas for the work, such as best practices in working with drug users, health matters, safe working practices, and health and safety. Staff members were also encouraged to take further courses relevant to the work such as counseling, addiction studies and more.
- We have also worked to educate and form a diverse staff on our values and mission through sessions on our inspirational founders, St. Vincent and St Louise.
Systemic Change must be built on firm foundations of commonly held knowledge, values and beliefs for it to be truly transformative. Often these foundations have to be addressed in themselves before change can begin and people can recognize their common ground. This can take time but without it our work will falter and our careful constructions be short lived.
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