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Sister Jane talks consensus to priests
When Sister Jane Becker suggested to the assembled 60 priests that “maybe your experience with consensus-building is not that hot,” several laughed knowingly.
And several priests also knew why a Sister of St. Benedict of Ferdinand was talking about “Coming to a Consensus” at the recent 2012 Presbyterate Convocation of Evansville Diocesan priests at Clifty Falls Inn near Madison, Indiana.
The event’s organizer, Father Phil Kreilein, Diocese of Evansville director of ministry to priests and continuing education, said the four day assembly’s focus was “to talk more effectively with each other.”
When the organizing committee needed to pick somebody to talk about consensus, Father Phil said, “We immediately thought of the Sisters of St. Benedict. They have been using the method of consensus for almost 30 years. I called Sister Kristine Anne Harpenau for assistance, and she recommended Sister Jane.”
So Sister Jane, a clinical psychologist at Saint Luke Center in Louisville, was on hand to give the priests a better understanding of the sisters’ process of reaching consensus.
She noted the difficulty in resolving conflict, and how the sisters use discernment to make major decisions within the Ferdinand community, such as closing the academy or electing a new prioress.
Among the main points in Sister Jane’s one-hour presentation:
- Consensus doesn’t mean total agreement, but total (or very high) consent.
- Joint ownership of the solution is critical; that comes from all having a chance to give input. Remember each person has “a piece of the wisdom.”
- Don’t compete for the group’s support; work toward a shared decision that meets all concerns as much as possible.
- It’s important to have attitudes of cooperation, openness to new ideas, optimism, and concession for the good of the whole.
- It takes discipline; don’t fuss about the decision afterwards.
- Focus on it being our problem, and we will work it out. The goal is universal acceptance of a workable, if imperfect, solution.
During the question-and-answer segment at the end of Sister Jane’s talk, one priest commented, “We’ve used Benedictine sisters to facilitate our meetings, and it helps. When you use consensus, there are no winners or losers. It takes time, but I am convinced of it.”
After the session, several priests made it a point to thank Sister Jane for her help.
Father David Nunning of Sacred Heart Parish in Evansville said, “Sister Jane is an experienced practitioner, so she was very helpful. It was more than just theory. She can share ideas, then talk on how to implement the ideas.
“It shows that reaching consensus is eminently doable – difficult, but doable.”