10 June 2024
10 Jun 2024

A provincial chapter under the sign of synodality

How do you experience synodality during the chapter? Fr. Stefan Tertünte tells how the German province conducted the recent provincial chapter.

by  Stefan Tertünte, SCJ

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How do you experience synodality during the chapter? What methodology to use? Fr. Stefan Tertünte tells how the German province conducted the recent provincial chapter.
Note: The article comes from the congregation’s continental theological commissions in preparation for the XXV General Chapter.

From 2 to 6 January 2024, the German Province of the Congregation celebrated its Provincial Chapter – all under the banner of synodality. The provincial administration decided early on that both the preparation and the celebration of the provincial chapter should be characterised by a synodal approach.

Synodality in the preparation of the provincial chapter

The first consequence was to ask the members about holding the provincial chapter as a plenary assembly. Traditionally, the members of the province elect delegates to the chapter. In the meantime, however, the number of members of the province has become very manageable – 36 at the beginning of the preparation process. The sentence “What concerns everyone should also be decided by everyone” could become feasible in view of the size of the province, and such a type of chapter could also help to strengthen the awareness of shared responsibility for the concerns of the province. In accordance with the proper law of our congregation (Cst. and GD 129), we have launched a survey among the confreres at in March 2023 to find out whether they would like such a chapter in the form of a general assembly. Significantly more than the required 2/3 were in favour. Accordingly, we submitted the request to the Superior General and with decree from May 2, 2023 he agreed to the idea of a Chapter as plenary assembly.

The second consequence was the choice of the moderator. In Dr Peter Hundertmark, we chose a moderator who is known to some of us as the head of the Spiritual Formation Department in the Diocese of Speyer. Above all, however, he is a recognised expert in the “Spiritual Exercises for Apostolic Discernment in Common / Exercices Spirituels pour un Discernement Apostolique en Commun” (abbreviation ESDAC, see www.esdac.net). Originating in North America in the 1970s and continuously developed further, this method is about understanding the group as the subject of a faith-based decision-making and growth process. The Ignatian origin is unmistakable. The facilitator Dr. Hundertmark was already involved in the preparatory phase of the chapter.

The third consequence was that all communities were invited to two community meetings in which they could try out the chapter method together and gain initial experience with it.

Synodality during the Chapter

The set themes of the Chapter, as they emerged from our proper law and the consultation of the provincial members, were: Reports of the Provincial Superior, the Provincial Treasurer, the Mission Procurator, preparation of a mission statement, the General chapter, decisions on various topics such as vocation ministry, internationality, etc.

The core of the synodal method according to the ESDAC model was a recurring rhythm in the approach to various topics and questions. There were always similarly structured times during the chapter. The chapter members are given a kind of impulse sheet. The title indicates the topic to be dealt with, e.g. evaluation of the works, preparation of the mission statement, proposal for vocational pastoral care, etc. Then there is a biblical passage relevant to the topic, which each capitular is asked to include in their personal reflection. There are two or three questions to help them pray with the text and the corresponding topic. The prayer time ends with a colloquy with the Lord and the question: What has dawned on me – and what would I like to share with the small group?

The next step is to listen to what the individuals want to share in small groups that are as heterogeneous as possible. The group then decides what they would like to bring to the plenary session. A candle and a Bible stood in the centre of the plenary session for the entire duration of the chapter.

What are our experiences on this approach in a provincial chapter?

– It was a new experience for all of us to be there as a plenary assembly and to try out this method. Yes, it was a first practice. If synodality is to characterize not only the moments of a chapter, but the life of a community in its entirety, and that’s how we understood Pope Francis, then this kind of co-operation must be practiced again and again, in house assemblies, provincial councils, commissions, provincial assemblies, etc. It must become more and more another way of working together. There must be more and more of a different culture of togetherness.

– Some confreres had and still have difficulties with this method, especially at a provincial chapter: “We are here to make decisions, not to do retreats!”

– Quite a few confreres have difficulties with the times of silence in particular, with their length and frequency.

– All the confreres had their say and spoke up, in one-to-one discussions, small groups and plenaries. The number of people who spoke was decidedly greater than in previous chapters, where we often have the experience that only a small part of the chapter members do most of the speaking.

– The “pace” of the chapter was special: the first few days were strongly characterized by coming together, searching for common ground and finding common ground. The phase of voting on decisions started relatively late, but many decisions were then made and mostly by consensus.

– Past chapters have seen real battles between different groups, with winners and losers. This time there was no real battle, just a passionate search for common grounds.

– Overall, the brothers enjoyed working together and were sometimes surprised by what was/is possible together.

– Apart from the need for constant practice, perhaps two areas became clear in which we still need to grow: living with the Holy Scriptures and our own experience and knowledge of spiritual processes.

A quote from an older chapter member: “I’m not really a friend of methods with a lot of small group work etc., But compared to previous chapters, what strikes me most is how we came to the individual decisions, it was really a respectful co-operation. And when I look at the decisions we made, I have to say: perhaps they were only possible thanks to this method.”


Based on the experience of the chapter, we can say that it is about multi-layered listening – to oneself, to the Word of God, to silence, to the brother, to the group, to the environment. This multi-layered listening then corresponds to different steps of sharing with one another, especially in the small group as well as in plenary. The approach is relatively consensus-orientated, i.e. close, combative votes should be avoided; at the end of a decision-making process, the question is not only asked who is in favour. It is also asked who is absolutely opposed to the decision to be made. The method is particularly worthwhile if it is not limited to one event, but is intended to shape the culture in the life of a group, a community, a province, etc.

An example of the procedure during the chapter according to ESDAC

Topic: Evaluation



I realise that God is present for me/us.

Biblical Text

“The disciples said to him, ‘Where are we to get enough bread in the desert to feed so great a crowd?’ Jesus asked them, ‘How many loaves have you?’ They said, ‘Seven, and a few small fish.’” (Mt 15, 33f)

“For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair (2 Cor 4:6 – 8)


For the indifference that seeks the will of God in everything.

Points to consider

In my imagination, I stand with the disciples. I “see” the many people and the few loaves and fish. What feelings arise in me? Where do I recognise similar feelings in my work?

In the presence of the one who has illuminated our hearts, I apply the vision, mission and criteria to my specific topic. Where is it time to end? Where to change? Where to start anew?

And how could it work practically? I remember that all decisions on one topic have consequences for the whole province.

I open my heart to the last sentence from the letter to the Corinthians. What does it say to me for our situation right now, when we have to make – perhaps difficult – decisions?


I turn to God and consider with him what steps I have found for my topic and how I see the implications for the whole province.

I consider: What might he want to say to me/us now?

At the end

I decide what I want to bring to the group.

I make a few notes on my suggestions.

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