Commenting on Conference meetings, President-General Jules Gossin wrote that “In France, what even the best men fear most is boredom; and, in that respect, the men of every country are more or less French.” He went on, in his Circular Letter of November 1, 1847, to say that “Boredom is to a Conference what smoke is to a beehive.”
Much of the responsibility for avoiding boring meetings rests on the Conference President and other leaders. Indeed, the Manual stresses that “meetings should not be lengthy” and goes on to suggest ways in which leaders can keep the meetings short, but meaningful. While a tight agenda is important, though, the Manual also explains that “the Conference meets less to conduct business than to celebrate and deepen its unity for essentially spiritual reasons.” [Manual, Ch. 2]
Indeed, this drift towards pure business meetings became a problem in the very first Conference, of which Bl. Frédéric wrote “the session is nearly always concerned with business, it seems long.” [Letter 90, to Curnier, 1835] As a result, he said, they were losing their enthusiasm, not growing in friendship, and many were becoming discouraged.
In almost all cases, the meetings, the works, and the Conference itself can be rejuvenated with a renewed focus on keeping the Spirit at the center of our meetings, bringing to them once again what our Rule describes as “a spirit of fraternity, simplicity and Christian joy.” [Rule, Part I, 3.4]
As St. Vincent reminds us: “Be quite cheerful, I beg you. Oh, what great reason people of good will have to be cheerful!” [CCD I:84] Our laughter not only erases tensions between Members and alleviates boredom, but makes our meetings more welcoming for new and potential Members!
In that 1847 letter, Jules Gossin observed the importance of laughter in Conference meetings, noting that although you don’t go in in hopes of “provoking occasions of hilarity” it is nevertheless the “Conferences that afford the most generous relief to the poor are those in which charity is practiced cheerfully.”
Is there joy and laughter in my Conference meetings? Do I help to foster it?
Instead of reading this week, let’s pray together.