The Way of Discernment

Dearly Beloved,

Time moves inexorably (unstoppably) forward. Thank you for the gift of a week of Continuing Education last week. I spent the time in retreat and reading. One of the books I found most helpful was Elizabeth Liebert's "The Way of Discernment: Spiritual Practices for Decision Making."

As you know our Church Board has authorized the formation of an Open and Affirming Discernment Team (update to come in our November newsletter). This team will not make (or even recommend) a decision for us about Open and Affirming (whether and how to fully include and affirm LGBTQ+ people). Instead, they will lead us through the journey of discernment. 

So what is discernment? According to Elizabeth Liebert, it is "the Christian practice of seeking God's call in the mist of the decisions that mark one's [individual or communal] life" (page ix). The question at the heart of Christian discernment is "'What does God desire here?'" (page x). We seek that answer by "intentionally becoming aware of how God is present, active and calling us as individuals and communities so that we can respond with increasingly greater faithfulness" (page 8).

Discernment is different than simply collecting data (though that's an important part of discernment) or making a decision (though much discernment results in a decision of some sort).

In her book, Liebert suggests that biblically understood, discernment:
1. Is a gift that arises from God's initiative. 
2. Is a habit of faith. In other words, it is a spiritual practice.
3. Is the desire to follow the Spirit of Jesus, who is present within daily life. 
4. Grows through devotion and practice. It demands trust, includes failure and matures through self-reflection and prayer.
5. Grounds our capacity to live an authentic human life. In other words, it helps us to be most truly who we are, who God created us to be.
6. Means living in such a way that our primary identity as God's beloved children shapes our decisions, small and large. 
7. Is a process. We come to know God's call and desire as we listen continually over time.  
8. Is always set within the larger community of faith. Ultimately, all discernment must happen in the context of our faith community(ies) -- we need others' insight, wisdom and experience to help guide us.
9. Is a framework that enables us to join in partnership with God. 

Some of us have extensive experience with Christian discernment. Some of us have practiced this kind of discernment without having a name for it or realizing its connection to tradition and spirit. For some of us, the idea and practice of discernment is completely new and perhaps more than a little foreign. This is all good. Because in this process, we need all of us -- with our varied experience, knowledge and insight. The questions of those who feel newest to this may bring as much clarity to us as the wisdom of those who have decades of experience in discernment. We need you. We need your prayers, your voice, your listening, your wisdom. We can only truly discern God's call for this community IN community. 

And discernment does not happen over night. It can take months, even years. Prayer is central, as is listening. In discernment, even more than seeking a particular outcome or answer, we seek God's presence and leading. We desire to collect information, to learn and to grow in our knowledge of ourselves, one another, our world and most importantly God and God's love. Please keep our Open and Affirming Discernment Team (OnA Discernment Team) and our congregation in your discerning prayers!

With love and peace,
Thandiwe