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2023 Report Highlights - Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission

“Listen, my child, to the master’s instructions, and attend to them with the ear of your heart.” —RB Prol.1
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Listening - the Heart of Bridge Building


At its heart, the mission of Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission (BBTM) is listening. Inspired by Pope Francis’s call that we be “bridge builders,” BBTM creates space for intentional and active listening to occur among the staff and shareholders of BBTM, the Diocese of Saint Cloud, Saint John’s Abbey and University, its School of Theology and Seminary, leadership of Area Catholic Communities (ACC), and laity throughout the diocese. Such listening—to each other, to God, and to Scripture—deepens our understanding of how to create a thriving church.


Partnering Toward the 5 Aims


Earlier this month Barbara Sutton, director of Bridge Builders for a Thriving Mission (BBTM), submitted her yearly report to the Lilly Endowment. Her report covers the aims and purposes of BBTM, progress and adaptations made, and goals for moving forward. In 2018 and 2019, the Diocese of Saint Cloud, in collaboration with Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary, restructured its 131 parishes into 29 ACCs. BBTM works with the diocese and Saint John’s Abbey’s Outreach to Hispanics to meet the following aims:


  • to build relationships within the ACCs and between the ACCs and the diocese

  • to provide educational opportunities for parish teams

  • to invite pastoral leaders and parishioners to discern their gifts

  • to offer resources and opportunities for growth

  • and to deepen their prayer with Benedictine spiritual practices

One way relationships between the ACCs and the diocese is strengthened is through Pastoral Visits with Bishop Patrick Neary, CSC. Originally, the plan was for three ACCs at a time to attend a weekend retreat together. This plan had to shift because of COVID, and a new strategy was implemented: a facilitated process that brings three ACCs together monthly. They meet at the Cathedral of Saint Mary for a pastoral visit with the bishop and diocesan leaders. Prior to the pastoral visits, the ACCs work with a care team, consisting of two diocesan leaders, to prepare for the meeting, helping to foster relationships and streamlining communication methods.


Formation in Benedictine Practices


The goal to provide formation in Benedictine practices is growing and reaching more and more people. A couple of programs have been particularly effective. Barbara Sutton and Martina Talic prepared lay and diaconal students from the Emmaus Institute to lead Small Christian Communities through the Lenten or Easter seasons [IN 2023?]. Ten English-speaking and fifteen Spanish-speaking students developed curriculum and gathered up to ten people from their ACC for a seven-week series. One of these Small Christian Communities, led by Karen Handeland, used the illuminations from The Saint John’s Bible for lectio and visio divina. The participants were then invited to paint the Word, with supplies provided at the two-hours session, that they received during their lectio. They then shared their reflections and art at the end of each session. What started as a Lenten practice expanded into Easter and has grown from there. Handeland had led Paint the Word events at Saint Benedict’s College, at another ACC, and within her own ACC. More groups are planned for 2024.


BBTM continues to adapt to the needs of ACCs and the diocese, focusing next on using what we have gained through discovering strengths, charisms, and intercultural awareness to mature as disciples and contribute to and participate in churches and communities more deeply. As we move forward, we are committed to helping people develop spiritual formation practices centered on listening to God and discerning God’s voice.

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