The Rule tells us that “All decisions are made by consensus after the necessary prayer, reflection and consultation.” [Rule Part I, 3.10] And that, “In rare circumstances, if consensus cannot be reached the decision may be put to a vote.” [Part III, Statute 16] Doesn’t that just drag things out? Isn’t it faster to vote?
These are the wrong questions! Our goal isn’t to reach the fastest decision, but to reach the right decision; the one that is aligned with God’s will.
The process of reaching consensus, then, is a concrete instance of discernment.
The foundation of consensus in our Conferences is for each of us to let go of our egos, “surrendering our own opinion,” as our original 1835 Rule put it, “without which surrender, no association is durable.”
This concept of surrender, of emptying ourselves, occurs throughout the Scriptures, and is a result of our Vincentian virtue of humility, which St. Vincent taught “causes us to empty ourselves of self so that God alone may be manifest, to whom glory may be given.” [CCD XII, 247] Even Christ “emptied himself” to better fulfill the Father’s will! [Ph 2: 6-8]
There is an old joke that voting is like two wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. In a similar way, consensus is like a group of friends deciding where to go for dinner. We would never make our friend with the fish allergy go for seafood, and it is obviously better to skip the pizza if another friend just had that for lunch.
When we keep our friendship foremost, our consensus on a dinner destination becomes obvious. Our differing needs and opinions don’t block the road, they light the path.
Just so, in our Conferences, with the bond of our Vincentian friendship enabling us to listen and speak openly, the group’s wisdom and insights will soon distill, revealing to us God’s will in the form of our consensus. Rather than vote fellow members off the island, we all remain in the same boat.
The Divine life, in the example of the Holy Trinity, is a shared life, and our pathway to it also is shared; in service, in spirituality, in friendship, and in consensus.
When have I let my own strong opinions shut down other voices in my Conference?
Turn Everything to Love – especially “Listening to God’s Word”