Dear Mr. President - a letter from religious leaders

Leadership for these times

Lynne Smith, OSB Building Community, Living in Community Leave a Comment

Dear Mr. President - a letter from religious leaders

What kind of leadership is called for in these times?

Several recent experiences come together to shape an answer to this question:

And, closer to home:

  • Joan Chittister’s The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century. In our sisters’ daily chapter meetings we have been reading from Joan’s commentary on Chapter 2 of the Rule, “The Qualities of the Abbot or Prioress.”

How do these many sources, and in particular our Benedictine values, speak to the kind of leadership that is called for in these times?

In their joint letter, the LCWR and CMSM reflect on the way they see leadership. Their statements resonate with the way we understand leadership as Benedictines:

  • “The gift of leadership is given to American leaders by the ‘Right of the People.’”

Leadership arises from within a community; leaders are lifted up by the people. In a Benedictine community a leader is discerned and elected and then is supported in leadership by the entire community. Each community member shares in the responsibility of leadership by doing her part.

  • “We and the members of our communities seek to be instruments of the reconciliation our people urgently need.”

Reconciliation is one of the calls of the Gospel. We seek to follow that call here at Holy Wisdom Monastery in the light of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John, “that all may be one.” Reconciliation is what we are working on and moving toward, so how do we use our leadership for reconciliation rather than division?

  • “We will actively work for the preservation of the dignity of all…”

From a Benedictine perspective, we live this out every day as we seek to receive all as Christ.

  • “As religious leaders, we are committed to contemplative prayer which compels us to take a long, loving look at what is real, to name its truth and to respond lovingly to its call through our service and leadership. We write today from this contemplative space, immersed in the Gospel call for all of us to grow in unity, peace, dialogue, and ultimately, conversion to the Reign of God.” 

We see leadership as service—servant leadership. In Benedictine community life we serve the growth and freedom of one another by helping others recognize their gifts and by calling others to give their gifts. By sharing all our gifts we raise the whole as well as individual people.

Benedict also has a long chapter on “Humility” which informs leadership and community life. Servant leadership is not power over but power with others. We are all called to conversion toward more freedom in Christ and in our love for all.

Demetrius Dumm, OSB, asks a question with clear implications for leadership: “Were you a gift in the lives of others, helping them to grow, to feel forgiven, to find consolation and to become a source of goodness and freedom for ourselves?”  (Praying the Scriptures, p. 51)

The application of these ideals is our everyday and ongoing work. In the spirit of Benedict, God waits for us all to translate these teachings into action. (Prologue to the Rule of Benedict)


Read other blog posts in Lynne’s series, Building Community.

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