Issues in Vocation & Formation in a time of Pandemic

We live in truly challenging times, with a pandemic sweeping through our communities, causing us to shutter our schools, churches and businesses, and shelter at home. The pandemic pushed many world economies into free-fall which seems to deepen the disparities between rich and poor and leave vulnerable communities in desperate poverty. Thousands have taken to the street in broad-based support of Black Lives in response to the killing of George Floyd and so many other unarmed people of color by police. Social unrest has deepened with the use of aggressive tactics by state security forces, including the release of chemical agents on peaceful protesters in the US and around the globe.
In the midst of all this, we are called to teach, to care for the sick, and to lead and serve our communities with courage and compassion. Even in these times, we attend to the good of our communities and continue planning and providing for the needs of our communities, now and into the future.
Like so many other aspects of our lives, our vocation and formation programs have pivoted in response to the lived realities of a pandemic which has touched every part of the world and every aspect of our lives. The pandemic will limit movement, opportunities for outreach, and for welcoming inquirers into our communities. Likewise, it will limit the abilities of candidates, formation ministers, and leadership to meet and build relationships that support and nurture the formation journey. These realities challenge us to find new ways of meeting, connecting, and building relationships. We often turn to video-conferencing, taking advantage of its ability to connect us across distances, and without the risks of face to face meetings. Yet moving to virtual meetings has its limitations. We cannot simply and uncritically transfer all our on-ground experiences to online forums. In a real way, we have to reimagine the ministry of vocation and formation in this new space, taking advantage of the benefits and addressing the limitations. 
Screening and Discernment - A wise spiritual guide accompanies an inquirer or candidate through the initial phases of determining their suitability for religious life and discerning their call to a particular religious community. This is a long-term project that begins before entrance into the community and continues throughout initial formation. Some aspects of this can be done remotely through email, video conferencing, and the exchange of messages and documents. But there is no replacement for physical, face-to-face presence. It is important to balance good discernment and the common goods of safety and responsibility for each others' wellbeing.
Community - It is important that inquirers and candidates experience living in the community. Newer religious place a high value on this aspect of religious life. Socializing candidates to the community is an ongoing challenge and it takes time for them to grow in depth and breadth of relationships in the community. It is also important that candidates integrate their spheres of relationships with friends and family, and with colleagues and other religious. The pandemic will surely place limits on face-to-face gatherings for some time to come, and particularly on larger gatherings that mark the high points of a community's life. At the same time, the broader use of technology may give rise to opportunities that would have been inconceivable just a year ago. Focusing on the value of bringing the person into a mutual, felt sense of community, we can explore ways of deepening the face-to-face community and augmenting it with a broader online presence.
Spirituality - Those in formation grow as persons of prayer within a praying community. Prayer is deeply personal and deeply communal. The prohibition on large gatherings during the time of pandemic will limit the community's ability to pray together. Online and live-streamed prayer and liturgies certainly meet needs, but cannot replace the experience of being physically present and praying together. This can be an opportunity to discuss the challenge of living a deeply spiritual life amid the realities of day-to-day community and ministry throughout one's religious life. Candidates, the formation ministers, and the community can name this reality and discern ways of nurturing the spiritual life, personally and communally, in this time and space, working with the blessings and challenges of this historical moment.
Mission - Those in formation embrace mission in various phases of the formation process, always growing in their commitment to serve with the heart of God, with kindness and graciousness, competence and commitment. Along with community, ministry provides the grist of daily life of those in religious life, and of those in formation, though to a lesser extent in the novitiate. Here again, it is important to balance the importance of ministry and the value of the wellbeing of one's residential community. Various organizations where those in formation serve will have different and changing guidelines, which will require ongoing discussion with local communities and formation personnel. Let this be a formative opportunity to live the values and charism of the community while discerning responses to these challenges and growing in one's vocation.
Register for August's webcast which will explore new issues that are arising in our vocation and formation programs. Register here.

Online Forum of Law for Religious Leadership
In response to the pandemic, many regional and national conferences and workshops have been postponed or canceled. I would like to provide an alternative that may fill a need for those seeking to enhance their understanding of canon law and civil law as they impact leadership in religious institutes. To this end, I have developed a list of recorded webcast series and bundles of recorded webcasts that can be used by individuals and teams. You can find more information here

First Place Award
We are pleased to announce that the Catholic Publishing Association awarded First Place honors in the Future Church category to Sr. Amy Hereford's Beyond the Crossroad, Religious Life in the 21st Century.

To view our archive of newsletters, click here. And to view our archive of webcasts, click here. As always, feel free to contact me if I can be of assistance to you and your community.

Be safe! and let's hold one another in prayer.
Amy Hereford


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