We’re reading Rosemary Radford Ruether’s “Sexism and God-talk” this semester for Systematic this semester, and I ran across a passage that actually reminded me of something from Doug Pagitt’s “Reimagining Spiritual Formation” book, concerning preaching and the preparation that goes into it, communally. Where does the responsibility of hermeneutics belong? Is it within the senior pastor, the Minister of Word and Sacrament? I think that’s what many of our seminaries today (including Princeton) would still like us to leave thinking. Who helps to determine what scripture will speak to our local communities? The national organization of our denominations? But they don’t know the specifics of all local congregations. What if the job of interpretation is left to the local church congregations? Where will that lead us? Will we end up with too many dissenting opinions? But aren’t those actually living in those local communities the ones who will know their context the best? Like Pagitt, Franzoni met with his congregation together to help determine the direction the Sunday sermon would go – the interpretation and message was determined within the context of community. I like that. All questions I’m wrestling with. Below is the section from Ruether’s book that tells the story of Franzoni and his model of a liberation Church.
“What I have described is a clergy-led revolutionizing of a local church. The difficulty with such a top-down transformation is that the clergy are seldom willing to let go of their own clerical prerogatives at the appropriate moment and really begin to share power for shaping the preaching, teaching and social action with the people. The people remain dependent for liberating theology and programs on the clergy and are not being trained to take responsibility for defining these themselves.
“There are instances where a clergy-led revolution is able to transform itself into a genuine liberation Church. In the Italian Basic Christian Community of St. Paul‚Äôs Outside the Walls in Rome, the revolution began with the vision of the abbot of the Benedictine community of this historic basilica, Dom Giovanni Franzoni. In the early 1960s, during the Second Vatican Council, Franzoni began inviting the laity to reflect with him on the Scriptures every Saturday night. He then preached his Sunday homily from this shared reflection. Gradually those who gathered with him came to number in the hundreds and those who came to hear him on Sunday in the thousands. Franzoni became radicalized by this shared reflection about both the nature of the Gospel and the mission of the Church. A core community of several hundred people began to reshape the liturgy in a more participatory way and also to engage in direct political action on such issues as war and unemployment.
“The Roman hierarchy then moved to strip Franzoni of his office as abbot. The community, together with his abbot, decided to leave the basilica and to move into an independent location. Franzoni and other priests in the community gradually decentralized themselves and became simply members and resource persons for a community organized around shard ministry. The Roman hierarchy then stripped Franzoni of his priest‚Äôs orders. The price of creating liberation community was the loss of all official institutional ties, although the group understands itself theologically and culturally as a renewal movement within Catholic Christianity.” (203-204)