A Report and Reflections on the Transition Process

[The Governing Board held an in-person meeting January 6-10, 2017
and follow-up conference call on January 24, 2017.]

Greetings from the Governing Board and the Transition Advisory Team!

I write as someone who recently joined the transition to new leadership within the international organization we call Contemplative Outreach. Many of you know about the Center for Contemplative Living in Denver, Colorado which was started by Sister Bernadette Teasdale and Father Thomas Keating in 1987. About eight years ago, Sister Bernadette decided to retire after over 25 years of leading this community of contemplatives in Denver. It was a daunting task to even imagine how we might carry on without her. We came to think of our journey as a transition from founder to the next generation. I’m sure many local Contemplative Outreach chapters have gone through similar transitions.

We learned much from this transition and shared these lessons with the Governing Board at their meeting in Denver in August 2016. Probably the most significant learning from Denver‚Äôs transition was that the wisdom in our network comes from our prayer practice, the relationship each one of us has with the Divine. Perhaps you’ve heard the quote from a 19th century novel, ‚ÄúGive a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.‚Äù At one of our Denver leadership meetings, Bob Albrecht reminded us that Father Thomas didn‚Äôt just teach us a method — he taught us to fish. We could say this about all our founders ‚Äì Sister Bernadette, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler, Father Carl Arico, David Frenette, Mary Mrozowski, Bob Bartels, Mary Dwyer, Cathy McCarthy and the many others I haven‚Äôt had the opportunity to meet. Following Father Thomas‚Äô model, they all taught us to fish.

Tens of thousands of people are now fishing in the stream of contemplative life. We are grateful for and proud of what our founders passed on to us. The new Governing Board and the Transition Advisory Team are interested in hearing from you about how we can support and sustain you. We acknowledge that Contemplative Outreach is a wide network. Some live in cities that have large organized chapters, some in rural areas with small prayer groups, some where they only have access to online resources, some in countries outside the US. Some of us are pole-dunking, some fly-fishing, and some deep-sea fishing. Wherever any one of us is on our spiritual journey, all our needs are important to the servant-leaders now entrusted with carrying on this work. We consider it a sacred trust.

The Governing Board had its first face-to-face meeting with the Transition Advisory Team in Tampa in January. Some of us knew each other, some of us had talked on the phone, but most of us were strangers to each other, but only on a surface level.  Many of us have experienced that sense of connection and immediate bonding with other Centering Prayer practitioners.  Here is a little flavor of our first getting-to-know-you session:

“Build on trust…”

“Feeling the tension between wanting to accomplish and wanting to be.”

“You don’t need to contain the ocean; all you need is to be able to swim in it.”

‚ÄúCan we allow Spirit to breathe upon these bones? Can these bones live?  Lord Thou knowest!‚Äù

“If each of us are willing to risk bringing forth whatever is in us, both light and flaws, trusting that what we see merely as flaws may even be useful to God.”

“All I know is that there is a yes to whatever God wants me to do.”

“We are the new wine.”

“A collective openness.”

“The life is in the process. How we do anything, is how we do everything.”

“If all that I experienced this weekend was this check in,
it would have been worth the trip.”

Of course, we had a board meeting. Business needs to be taken care of. Interwoven with the business were three periods of Centering Prayer each day with the intention of staying open to the movement of the Spirit within us and among us. Not everyone could make the meeting due to weather and other commitments. Those who couldn’t attend in person attended our sessions by phone. When we sat together in Centering Prayer they sat with us from their homes. It wasn’t quite the same as having them in the room but we could feel their presence and their solidarity with us. In attendance from the Governing Board were Nick Cole, Kathy Di Fede, Thomas Hall, Tom Smith, Lois Snowden and Father Gilberto Walker. Attending from the Transition Advisory Team were John Kelsey (for some of the meeting), Maru Ladron de Guevara and Julie Saad. Joining us by phone from the Transition Advisory Team were Jenny Adamson and Adal Henriquez, and our Interim Administrator Pat Johnson.

In our first session, we brainstormed about the big picture of Contemplative Outreach, including understanding the needs of the individual Centering Prayer practitioner, reverencing the process, contemplative service, inspiration, need determining function, communication, transparency, connection, transmission and accessibility. With all of this in mind we proceeded to:

  • Approve a budget
  • Make decisions about staff compensation
  • Accept Mary Dwyer‚Äôs resignation from the Governing Board, and hold off until 2018 to add any new members
  • Decide to combine the Governing Board and the Transition Advisory Team, one body but each with their own responsibilities (i.e. the Governing Board has legal responsibilities to the non-profit organization such as voting on motions)
  • Elect officers. Facilitator (chairperson) Nick Cole; Co-facilitator (vice-chairperson) Thomas Hall; Lois Snowden, Secretary; and Tom Smith, Treasurer
  • Ask Pat Johnson to join the Special Projects Committee, which is dedicated to developing resources
  • Form a team to look into, analyze and report to the Governing Board about the long-term location of Contemplative Outreach Ltd. The main office is currently located in Butler, New Jersey. Joining Thomas Hall on this team are Adal Henriquez and John Congdon

The Governing Board desires to change its name to reflect its contemplative vision. We will keep the name Governing Board for now to avoid confusion, but look to you for suggestions for a new name. Our intention is to change it at the September conference after receiving your input.

We had a conference call with Father Thomas who encouraged us to find security in the Holy Spirit and to love one another. His words encouraged us in the direction we were already moving!

We formed a Communications Team, consisting of Tom Smith and Julie Saad, along with Pamela Begeman, our Director of Communications and Programs, and Marie Howard, our Interim Coordinator of Volunteers. We are looking to add a few more people to this team. Our purpose is to conduct ongoing dialogue about maintaining and improving Contemplative Outreach communications. One of the tasks of this group will be to help roll out the new Vision, Theological Principles, Guidelines (formerly Administrative Principles) and the Commentaries Father Thomas wrote to flesh out the meaning of each principle and guideline. The themes of the United in Prayer Day and the September conference will be focused around the new vision. The Resource Handbook (RHB) is due for an update and that will be on hold temporarily to discuss potential updates. We are looking forward to receiving an article from Ray Leonardini for the newsletter about how we might connect the prison ministry to the larger Contemplative Outreach community. The Communications Team also welcomes new sources of content for the ebulletin and newsletter. Please send any articles or reflections to Pamela BegemanWe also are exploring better ways and means of communicating with you.

In addition to retiring as our Executive Director, Gail Fitzpatrick-Hopler resigned from The Gift Committee. The Gift Committee members requested that the Governing Board propose several candidates for consideration to replace her. The Gift Committee is dedicated to ensuring the legacy of Father Thomas Keating. Emory University houses the Keating collection and has committed a dedicated archivist to the project.

We met with the leadership team in the Tampa Bay area for a two-hour dialogue focusing on the Governing Board’s 2017 Intentions and the needs of the local chapters. Twelve people joined us for this conversation and most stayed for dinner. Because the interaction was so beneficial and life-giving to both groups, we decided to hold future board meetings in places where we can include sessions like this with the local leadership. Our next meeting will be in San Antonio in May 2017 and we hear that the San Antonio chapter is already excited that we are coming.

We came away from this meeting energized and excited about our own spiritual journeys, and the future of our organization, which we affectionately call the organism. We talked about how any organism ultimately creates its own organization and we would like to give the organism room to breathe, expand and grow.

by Julie Saad, Denver, Colorado
Transition Advisory Team member
Lectio Divina service team member