An Interview with Lena Woltering of the Lay Synod Movement
Lena Woltering is an active member of the Fellowship of Southern Illinois Laity (FOSIL) – an organization of lay Catholics working, in the tradition of the early Christian community, to “keep the voice of prophecy alive” and thus “further the reform and renewal of the Catholic Church and to ensure justice, equality, and dignity for all people.”
For ten years Woltering served on the national board of Call to Action (CTA). Currently, she devotes much of her time and energy to traveling around the United States helping to organize CTA-sponsored events that call for inclusion of the laity in critical Church decisions. Through these local events, she challenges the laity to claim their rights as full members of the Roman Catholic Church.
Along with Sr. Kate Kuenstler, Lena Woltering will be a keynote speaker at the October 13 conference of Call to Action Minnesota (see listing in Upcoming Events). Woltering’s presentation at Call to Action Minnesota’s conference will be entitled “Powerful Persuasion: Creating a Church the Historical Jesus Would Recognize,” and will explore the ever-growing Lay Synod Movement that began with the church reformers of FOSIL and is being replicated across the country.
Recently, Progressive Catholic Voice editor Michael Bayly interviewed Lena Waltering via e-mail about the Lay Synod Movement.
PCV: What are some of the distinguishing characteristics of the model of Church embodied by the Lay Synod Movement that you maintain would be recognizable by the historical Jesus?
Lena Waltering: There are four:
1) Acknowledging our own culpability in the dysfunction of our Church.
2) Moving from a “catechism faith” where dependence on the hierarchy is crucial, to a “biblical faith” where we, by our baptism, are all called to ministry.
3) Participation by all baptized in the governance of our Church, including selection of leaders.
4) Recognizing that “charity” is not social justice work. (We miss the boat if we simply feed the hungry and never ask the question, “Why are so many folks starving?”)
PCV: How do you account for the absence of these characteristics in the Church beyond the Lay Synod Movement?
Lena Woltering: The clerical model of Church we have grown up with does not make room for, nor tolerate, the characteristics of the Lay Synod Movement because they undermine the power structure that has been in place for centuries. Many Catholics look at the institutional church as a vendor of grace and salvation. The concept of “being” church is something vague and bothersome to many.
PVC: What do you see as some of the implications of the Lay Synod Movement on the Church's methods and conclusions with regards to its authoritative teaching on issues of doctrine and morality?
Lena Woltering: Education is the most crucial element in the Lay Synod Movement. Thinking “out of the box” does not have to be risky business as many of us were taught. With regard to authoritative teaching, “Father” does not necessarily know everything about morality and salvation. We should not be so quick to accept the adage, “The Church has always taught . . .” because many church teachings are merely disciplines that have changed and evolved with our culture. Becoming participants in what has, for many, been a spectator sport requires a new sense of responsibility.
PVC: Are there Church documents that support the vision of Church embodied by the Lay Synod Movement?
Lena Woltering: The most evident documentation of what our lay synod movement envisions are the documents of Vatican II and the Revised Code of Canon Law (Obligations and Rights of the Lay Christian Faithful.)
PVC: How popular is the Lay Synod Movement within and beyond the United States?
Lena Woltering: The Lay Synod Movement is picking up steam in the U.S. Since the first gathering in Southern Illinois in 2002, synods have been held in Upstate New York; McAllen, TX; San Francisco; and Dallas/Fort Worth. Upcoming events are planned for Minneapolis, Florida and two sites in Wisconsin. I have also been responding to inquiries from other parts of the country. I know of no activity outside of the United States at this time.
PVC: Doesn’t the use of the term “lay” reinforce the hierarchical model of Church contrary to the vision of community embodied by Jesus, and which for centuries has pitted clergy against laity? What about calling the movement the “Synod of the Baptized”? In this way, all could be included and distinctions between clergy and laity would be deemphasized. What are your thoughts on this?
Lena Woltering: The use of the words “lay” and “synod” are very deliberate – precisely for the reason you object. Both have been used by the hierarchy for centuries, but never have they been used together. In fact, when the concept first arose there was much discussion about what we would call our gathering. We were told only bishops had the authority to call synods. Recognizing our own baptismal authority, the decision was made to call a lay synod where we could begin the work to break down the divisions created by centuries of clericalism. As we do the work on a local level, we will continue to use the term. However, once the movement has grown significantly (and we believe it will) we are hoping to hold a national gathering that will be all about “the people of God!”
Lena Woltering will be speaking on Saturday, October 13, at the Annual Conference of Call to Action Minnesota.