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Giving Voice National Gathering, July 6-9, 2017

When Barbara Stanbridge, IHM, presented the evolution of leadership models at our July Assembly, I shared in the gratitude for the work our congregation has done to bring us to where we are. She noted our readiness to be a "teal" organization, characterized by "self-management, wholeness, and evolutionary purpose."

Additionally, I felt grateful for my recent experience attending the Giving Voice Conference because there I witnessed both the yearnings for and the practice of "teal"–that holarchical structure of shared leadership.

Nearly 70 women religious in their 20s through 40s representing 46 different religious communities gathered at Iona College July 6-9. Giving Voice, a peer led organization that creates spaces for younger women religious to give voice to their hopes, dreams and challenges in religious life, provided me a real life example of shared leadership in those few days. While the Giving Voice Core Team, along with an outside facilitator, took turns in the role of leading and guiding the structure of the weekend, its members were equally participative, giving witness talks, rehearsing liturgy music, leading morning prayer practices, organizing social time, and initiating topics and hosting groups during work sessions.

Morning sharing circles used principles that similarly guide our congregation’s dialogue groups. Giving Voice adopted "The Circle Way" for its conversations. There was a respectful, contemplative listening practiced. I found the circles to be an opportunity to build relationships and trust, as well as to learn about my peers’ hopes, dreams, challenges, and joys. I was attentive to the challenge of their experiences in the age minority of their communities. I heard a desire for more collaborative and circular leadership models. I heard a desire to work together across congregations. I also heard great hope for the future of religious life.

The sacred morning exchanges spiritually charged us for the afternoon work sessions, which I recognized as opportunities to pursue dreams together. Using meeting models that support shared leadership, such as open space and pro action café, various sisters from within the group volunteered topics they were passionate about and hosted meetings. While hosts remained stationary, other sisters moved around to topics, contributing where the Spirit led them. Topics ranged from intercongregational living to going out to the marginalized. In this organic model, ideas were expressed and harvested, and each group appeared to have enough sisters energized and invested in developing next steps. I marveled at the diversely gifted and leaderful group I had just met.

On the second day, reflecting on the conversations I heard in my morning circle and work session the previous afternoon left me realizing that there was a lot of energy around congregational structures and the younger sisters’ desires to truly be heard and actively participate. The awareness impelled me to host a table that afternoon around the topic of constructing new leadership models.

Over the course of an hour, different sisters came to my table (among many other tables with different topics) to ponder and share thoughts and feelings. Sisters expressed images of unraveling models, circular, grassroots models and metaphors that honored the wisdom of elders and energy of sisters in their generative years. One sister, a member of her congregation’s leadership team, shared her wisdom and experience of a structure she spoke of metaphorically as the "octopus." The desire to practice "teal" in community was palpable.

Then, the facilitator asked all those hosting a table topic to pray over everything they heard. As I quietly read back over what sisters shared, I felt a special responsibility to make sense of the diverse input and to listen for God’s revelation through any key insights. I realized the reverence in this step of the process, respectfully holding what each sister shared.

Meanwhile, sisters who had traveled to different tables maintained a sacred silence by journaling or taking a silent break.

To conclude the work session, hosts convened sisters at their tables once more to share insights and develop action steps. At my table we agreed that a forum should be created where sisters could continue to share ideas and experiences of shared leadership models.

I felt peaceful gratitude for this collaborative afternoon, experiencing the exchange of wisdom and energy among my peer sisters and learning through the processes that undergirded our experience.

On the final morning, during our closing prayer, I found myself looking around, realizing that this was just a beginning, the beginning of our relationship-building, networking, and shared leadership—our communion that will support and inspire us to keep serving the world as women religious. I sat with a deep sense of hope and possibility.

Giving Voice National GatheringShown above with the with the approximately 70 religious sisters all under the age of 50 that attended the Giving Voice National Gathering at Iona College in New Rochelle, New York, July 6 - 9, 2017, are IHM Sisters Lisa Perkowski, Elvia Mata Ortega and Rachel Terry.