Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Greetings in the Risen Lord! Below please find a report on our first findings from the Let’s Listen sessions and a first discernment as to what the Holy Spirit is calling us to through our conversations with one another. This first finding and discernment report will form the basis for a more comprehensive pastoral letter which I will promulgate this coming fall. As a Pentecost people, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will lead us into the purpose and mission for which we exist in these days of great blessings and challenges.
|Bishop Daniel Felton
Believe in the Good News
It is hard to believe that I have been the Bishop of Duluth for one year. How truly blessed I have been to serve you as a servant of the Lord. As I began my time here, I had two goals for my first year as your bishop: get to know and care for the priests and get to know and care for the parishes and people of our diocese. I am grateful for the warm welcome, patience, and support you have given to me this year in both those endeavors.
As I have spent time with the priests and deacons, parishioners, and parish and diocesan staff, all have been forthright in stating, “Now that we have a bishop again, it is time for us to get back to our mission and to move ahead in our diocese.”
Being your new bishop, I heard what you were saying, but I was not quite as sure as to the who, where, how, and what you were asking for at this time. So it was that I set out on a journey of deep listening to literally thousands of people that I have met along the way, traveling over 35,000 miles to the four corners of our diocese and everything in between.
Additionally, during the course of the year, our Holy Father, Pope Francis, asked every diocese in the world to convene people throughout the diocese and to listen to what their hurts are that are in need of healing and what the areas of their lives are that are healthy and hopeful.
Someone this year referred to me as “that Holy Spirit guy.” That’s because I am always talking about the Holy Spirit and what the Holy Spirit is calling us to in our personal lives, our parishes, and the community in which we live. As I listened to you in our conversations, and as I listened to you in our Let’s Listen sessions, I really was listening to hear the next step given to us by the Holy Spirit. After all, you told me, “Now that we have a bishop again, it is time for us to get back to our mission and to move ahead in our diocese.”
Below you will have a summary of my first findings that I heard in the many conversations that I have had with you this past year and the first findings of our Let’s Listen sessions. These first findings will provide a framework for a much more comprehensive document to be released later this year. In that document the Holy Spirit will give us a clear articulation of what our mission is moving forward, how we are going to achieve the mission, where we will need to put our time and resources, and who is going to make all of this happen.
LET'S LISTEN: FIRST FINDINGS
(faindinz): the action of finding something or someone; to be informed or to discover
At the beginning of the Lenten season, Let’s Listen sessions were launched throughout the Diocese of Duluth. During that period of time more than 50 sessions were facilitated with hundreds of people participating in on-site, in-person settings. Additionally, 110 people responded online, with others responding through The Northern Cross diocesan newspaper or individual interviews. Participants were multigenerational, from a variety of life settings and expressions of families, diverse in geographical place, and varied in their active engagement of faith and relationship with God.
The Let’s Listen sessions centered around two questions: “What is hurting and in need of healing in your personal life, in your parish or experience of church, and in the community where you live?” and “What is healthy and hopeful in your personal life, in your parish or experience of church, and in the community where you live?” Participants were invited to write down their responses or present them orally.
The sessions were meant simply to be an exercise of intentionally listening to one another as participants responded to these two questions without any discussion or debate taking place.
Finally, as the definition of findings above indicates, it is the action of discovering and finding someone. In this case, that someone is the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, the Let’s Listen sessions were created as a means of finding and discovering the next step that the Holy Spirit is calling us to in our personal life, our parish or experience of church, and in the community where I live.
This is a presentation of our first findings in the hundreds of responses that were given to the two Let’s Listen questions mentioned above. It is a first summary of the responses that were most often given or were consistently stated in all of the Let’s Listen sessions. In the months ahead, there will be an even deeper exploration of this data and its meaning for us moving ahead.
For now, these are some of our first findings.
… in your parish or experience of church
… in the community where you live
… in your parish or experience of church
… in the community where you live
THE DAWNING MOMENT
(doniNG): to begin to grow in light; to begin to open or develop; to begin to perceive
I have travelled extensively around the diocese in my first year as your bishop and I have spent a lot of time with our priests and the people of the diocese. As I have done so, there is a common comment that is often made to me: “As a diocese, we seem to be moving out of our recent challenges and problems. Let’s get going and move ahead with a renewed direction and mission.”
We have faced many diocesan challenges these past five years, including bankruptcy; the public listing of priests who have abused minors; the merger, clustering, and closing of parishes; the absence of a bishop for 18 months; and COVID, to name a few.
However, it appears as though we are standing in a moment when we are stepping out of the darkness into the breaking light of day. It is not full daylight, but there is more light than darkness. It is a dawning moment.
With many of the challenges behind us, it is slowly occurring to us that we have enough light in this dawning moment to take a step forward with a renewed sense of direction and purpose.
As we look back, we find ourselves asking, how did we get through the bleakness of the dark night of challenges, and who led us into this dawning moment of light?
As believers, the answer is simple and straightforward — the Holy Spirit! It is in and through the Holy Spirit that we are stepping into the light and being opened to the next step in direction and mission — not our mission, but the mission given to us by the Holy Spirit.
If this is the case, then we must return to our Let’s Listen sessions as we were not only listening to one another but listening for the promptings of the Holy Spirit and a discernment in that Spirit of the next step forward.
THE DAWNING MOMENT: A REVIVAL OF MISSION
(revivel): to revive after a decline; to bring back to the stage a play which has not been presented for a considerable time; to be alive again
(mishn): to fulfill an operation that is assigned by a higher power; to accomplish an anticipated outcome that is intended or guides planned actions
When I look at the responses that were given in the Let’s Listen sessions that spoke of hurts, healings, health, and hopes personally, as a parish or church, or in the community where I live, I heard the participants saying and the Holy Spirit proclaiming, that we need a mission revival of love, life, and joy. As defined above, we need to bring back to the stage of our lives a human and divine play that has not been presented for a considerable time. To be alive again! To love deeply again! To be filled with joy again! That is the next step forward into our mission.
And what is the mission assigned to us by a higher power to accomplish the Holy Spirit’s intended outcome for us: TO BE DISCIPLES AND TO MAKE DISCIPLES! As disciples, the mission that is set before us in our own time and for all time as given to us by Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations ….”
This mission revival of deep love, abundant life, and passionate joy as an embrace, embodiment, and expression of our mission call to be disciples and make disciples must guide the next step and inform all of our planned actions moving forward.
A REVIVAL OF MISSION: TO BE DISCIPLES AND TO MAKE DISCIPLES
(duhsaipl) to be a student; to learn; to follow
Jesus Christ lived, died, and rose to new life and resurrection! To be disciples of Jesus we must have an encounter with him that opens us to discover, follow, and worship him. To make disciples we must have our own hearts set on fire in the love of the Holy Spirit, have found the abundance of life in Jesus and the Eucharist, and have been commissioned by the Father to go out to others and give witness in the Holy Spirit to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. That is what it means not only to be a disciple in the Lord but to make disciples for the Lord.
A revival of the mission is to love deeply, to live abundantly, and to be filled with passionate joy as disciples in the Lord and in making disciples for the Lord. To fulfill this mission entrusted to us by the Holy Spirit as our next step in this dawning moment, we will give emphasis and priority to the following three phases, one step at a time. These phases or actions are discerned from and in response to all of the input received during the Let’s Listen sessions as a discernment of the Holy Spirit moving among us.
A Revival of Deep Love in the Holy Spirit
This phase will emphasize the need for ongoing healing and deep love of the Holy Spirit in our personal life, in our parishes, and in the communities in which we live. It will teach people how to understand the Holy Spirit as our intercessor in prayer and how lovingly we can pray in that same Spirit with others. It will help us to discern what the will of the Holy Spirit is versus our self-will, and it will aid us in identifying our spiritual gifts as indicators of identifying our vocation in life.
A Revival of Abundant Life in Jesus and the Eucharist
This phase will teach us how to break open the scriptures, especially through the practice of lectio divina. It will help us to better understand the Jesus who loves as we have been created, rescues us from our brokenness, restores us to our original innocence, and redeems us for eternal life. It will provide an opportunity for us to better understand the celebration of the sacrifice of the Mass and to more deeply discover the abundant life of Jesus given to us in his real presence.
A Revival of Passionate Joy in the Father Who Sends Us on Mission
This phase will provide an ongoing formation from being a disciple to becoming a joyful missionary disciple. It will provide the necessary tools and practices to go out into the world with the mission charge to make disciples. It will formally and publicly call on the Father to commission His disciples to be sent on mission out into the parishes and community where we live in our diocese.
FIRST FINDINGS AND FIRST ACTIONS IN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS
(akSHen): the action of doing something to achieve an aim; the accomplishment of a thing usually over a period of time in stages
Write a Pastoral Letter defining the diocesan mission with a strategy, plan, goals, and outcomes. A Pastoral Letter is an official letter from the bishop to the people of the diocese.
Develop and communicate a Diocesan Mission Statement. A Mission Statement is a concise explanation of why our diocese exists, its purpose and overall intention.
Establish a Diocesan Mission Team to oversee diocesan mission strategy and planning. The task of the Diocesan Mission Team is to work closely with the bishop as collaborators and facilitators advancing the mission of the diocese.
Develop and Identify Area Mission Fields. Mission fields are the agreed upon areas within which pastors and parishioners are responsible for all the people within those boundaries becoming disciples and making disciples.
Obtain and train people to use the Missioninsite software program. MIssioninsite is a technology platform designed specifically for church leaders to get data and actionable information about their mission field.
Establish two Bishop Field offices to be located somewhere in the Brainerd Deanery and in the Hibbing/Virginia Deanery. As we mobilize to mission, there is a need for the bishop to operate in different parts of his mission field, which is the whole diocese of Duluth.
At the Vespers Service held before my ordination to be the Bishop of Duluth, I recalled the profound and robust missionaries and missionary spirit that has been a part of the Diocese of Duluth spanning three centuries. At that time, I invited all to grab onto the wings of the Holy Spirit so that we might be carried to that place and space where the Holy Spirit wills us to be as missionaries for our given day and age. May the missionary spirit of generations before us be the same missionary spirit that leads us to be disciples and to make disciples in the 21st century. Venerable Frederic Baraga, pray for us!
+Daniel J. Felton
Feast of Pentecost, 2022