“Thinking from the individual”

At the sixth plenary assembly, the Trier Synod set the first course for the future course of the diocese from Thursday to Saturday. Among other things, it was a question of more orientation toward the individual and larger parish units.

It is already the sixth plenary session of the Trier diocesan synod, which started in 2013, but it is quite abstract. The 280 or so participants discuss the charisms of believers, "individualization and pluralization of society," the decline of popular church structures – not light fare. Then pastor Volker Malburg decides to use a more descriptive image. "There is a lack of carol singers, there is a lack of volunteers for the collection of old clothes, there is a lack, there is a lack," that is the usual complaint of many faithful, he says.

Malburg compares it to cooking: One could go shopping perfectly prepared, only to discover at the stove that one had forgotten a crucial ingredient after all. Or simply look in the refrigerator to see what else is in there, and then, with a little creativity, make the best of the available ingredients. For the faithful, too, it's a matter of making the most of the decline of the old popular church, Malburg clarifies.

Discussed: Role of women and dealing with divorcees

The kitchen metaphor soon becomes one of the most popular linguistic images of the plenary assembly. Only the phrase "as Pope Francis already says" is heard even more often. This just a few weeks ago had wrestled with bishops from around the world over the course of marriage and family ies. The question of the right way to deal with remarried divorcees or homosexuals, for example, and the role of women, is also on the minds of the Trier Synod.

Frustration is sometimes expressed, for example, when a participant says: "I have a full refrigerator, I can cook well – but I'm not allowed to."Or when a pastoral worker calls for a clear paradigm shift: "What do I say to the individual gay or lesbian couple who wants the blessing of the church?? That, to me, is the probation here at the synod."

Debates and pragmatic compromises

But despite all the criticism: the mood during this penultimate plenary session of the synod is constructive. Bishop Stephan Ackermann makes it clear where his scope of action ends: According to church law, the Trier Synod cannot bring about changes in matters of faith and doctrine. Among the numerous proposal texts, Ackermann therefore expresses some reservations about individual formulations, which can, however, be dispelled after debates with pragmatic compromises.

In December 2013, the synod began. After exactly two years of deliberation, the Trier meeting was supposed to be the final event. But because of the great need for consultation, the synod is now going into extension; a final document is to be adopted in April 2016. However, the bishop and many of the participants are clearly interested in putting down important stakes already at this plenary session.

Proposals with reservations

With a large majority of more than 80 percent, the synod passes several recommended resolutions called "Change of Perspective. Accordingly, the laity should be given more of a say. The church should no longer be "purely task-oriented," but in the future "think from the individual," discover his charism. The point is "no longer to ask: Do people fit into the church – and if they don't, they are made to fit – but to look more closely at the individual, his dignity, his questions, his commitment, his fractures," explains the bishop.

Even when it comes to noticeable cuts, the synod members are clear. For the existing small-scale parish structure, for "a uniform, area-wide pastoral care" they see no future. Nearly 900 parishes in the diocese are to become less than one hundred large parishes, according to an initial guideline. Whether and how these and other sometimes radical-sounding ideas will be put into practice remains to be seen. Despite the high level of consensus that is emerging, the following applies: All motions passed are subject to a final decision in April. A newly elected drafting commission is to formulate a final document by then.

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Christina Cherry
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