I had agreed, along with 11 other people from my congregation, to attend a program on congregational discernment, but I was not looking forward to it. I was skeptical of the diocese’s ability to teach a nonbureaucratic method of reaching decisions, and I was also skeptical about our group’s ability to discern anything. Few of us could have defined the word discernment, and none of us had any idea what we were in for.
Congregational discernment is a vague phrase, and yet it is one gaining a foothold in many churches. The concept is shaping concrete practices, such as the way Presbyterian churches have sought to work through controversies over sexuality; the deliberative procedures adopted by the World Council of Churches; and the decision-making styles of many congregations. Two specific practices ground discernment: silence and the use of consensus in decision making.