Dominican Sisters of Springfield – ‘Brown Bag Seminars: A Successful, Constructive Approach to Community Engagement’

Springfield, Ill.—The Dominican Sisters of Springfield hosted a successful series of lunch-time seminars as an antidote to the divisive tone of civic discourse that has occupied much of our public space since the 2016 presidential election.

The series, held on three successive Wednesdays after the inauguration, provided primers on building anti-racist institutions; organizing action in response to climate change; and engaging in contemplative dialogue. The events brought about 150 people in the doors at Sacred Heart Convent, many of whom had not engaged with the community previously.

In this case the old adage to talk about what you know proved very successful. “Our commitment to dismantling racism, caring for creation, and—as with many other religious congregations—our contemplative grounding—proved to be attractive to many people looking for a way to get involved and make a difference in the community” said Sister Beth Murphy, of the Dominican’s communications office which organized the event. “Women and men, seniors, young professionals, and students gathered around with their sack lunches and desire for solidarity with others who felt called to engagement with concerns that face our country. It was satisfying to welcome them and share with them.”

Sister Marcelline Koch and Springfield Dominican Anti-racism Team (SDART) member Douglas King presented the first session on tips for dismantling racism. A consequence of that session was the development of a community organizing strategy that we hope will have a positive impact on the justice system in the state.

The following week Sister Sharon Zayac, director of Jubilee Farm, the Dominican Sisters’ eco-spirituality center, presented practical ways to reduce our carbon footprint and to find other like-minded people with whom to study and organize local efforts. Some participants drove more than an hour to join in this discussion and carry back what they learned to their home communities.

At the final session the sisters on the Springfield Dominican Leadership team adapted the contemplative dialogue process they’ve learned through LCWR to provide participants with tools to approach difficult conversations. They led the group through an experience of contemplative dialogue, after which one participant marveled at the way it transformed a room full of strangers into friends.

“We made some new friends through this series and learned that there is a great desire within people to engage in positive action for the good of our country and world,” said Sister Kathlyn Mulcahy, a member of the Dominican’s leadership team. “It was a hopeful experience.”