Spiritual discernment in community is a spiritual process of discerning the will of God in the life of a community. Pope Francis repeatedly speaks of the importance of communal discernment for the whole Church, especially in the worldwide synodal process. Denis Dobbelstein is the World President of the Community of Christian Life (CLC). During his visit to Lithuania from 20 to 22 May, we spoke with him about the practice of communal discernment in the CLC. 

How does discernment in community work in the CLC? 

There are two types of discernment in communion. One is when a member of the group has a personal concern. Discernment can be done in three rounds of spiritual conversation. In the first round, group members share their most important experiences of the last few weeks. They try to identify when and where God has been waiting for them. This is not always obvious. Sometimes you sense something important and you suspect that a decision is necessary. If it is clear from the first round that a member needs support, the second round can be very helpful. 

When the exchange takes place between the long-standing members of a group who are faithfully walking a common faith journey, they have mutual trust among themselves. Therefore, in the second round, they can remind each other of their personal spiritual journey and thus help each other to name their own longings. Sometimes other members find more appropriate words for my experiences and can give me a different perspective on my concerns. 

What is needed for good discernment in community? 

You have to understand well what is being decided and be open to several alternatives. The support of the group is particularly valuable in this. The second round of sharing does not mean that I will hear more opinions and thus be able to answer my question better. It is useful to trust in the dynamics of the group. It is a slow and patient process in which understanding is gradually improved. It is important to respect the freedom of the person making the distinction.  

In the third round of discussion, each person tries to find out how their own perspective has changed. With the experience of Jesus' presence, the everyday perception of other people or of challenges can change completely. 

Where else is discernment possible in community? 

Another possibility for discernment relates to a communal concern and challenges in the community or group, even in the church. Together one looks at the reality and the difficulties and trusts the common understanding of a community and not only on the most intelligent rational arguments of the individuals. 

What are the challenges? 

Engaging in the process of discernment in community takes courage, patience, mutual respect and trust that the group is trying to listen to the Holy Spirit. The group is not just a gathering of individuals, but acts itself like a person listening to the Holy Spirit. 

What is needed is a clear method to avoid possible tensions or domination by individuals, abuse of the method or of one's own moral authority. 

One of the basic requirements for good discernment in community is to have facilitators who are not involved in the decision making. They are not responsible for the outcome but for the quality of the process. You need people who are rooted in faith and free in heart and mind to discern the movements of the Holy Spirit in the group. This is a great responsibility. The people who are able to accompany the discernment process are very important for the future of CLC and, I believe, the whole Church. 

Tell us an example from your experience... 

Recently, in the CLC World Board, we have been preparing for the upcoming CLC World Assembly 2023, where guidelines for the whole community will be discussed. It was a huge task: once to foresee what might happen in the future, at the same time to dream, but also to remain open to God's surprises. It was a long process. 

Ten board members from different cultures and regions of the world experienced agreement on the basic concerns and shared their assumptions. This was followed by a pause of several months for prayer on this concern. Of course, we could have much more easily formulated an attractive theme for the Assembly. But more important for us was to recognise the deep inner longing. 

Discernment in community requires humility, because one can never be completely sure what will happen. Each member experiences community differently. They face different challenges. It takes time to listen to each other, to understand where a particular presumption comes from, and then to recognise and examine your own presumption: Is it universal? Is it relevant? 

When we came back to our assumptions later, some seemingly great ideas had suddenly become less relevant. So we gradually came to a common understanding about the common theme of the meeting. It is a mystery. Prayer and sharing the fruits of prayer are no guarantee of hearing the voice of the Spirit, but they increase the chances. And this is an act of faith. 

The interview was conducted by Rasa Darbutaitė in Vilnius.