Outline for Convening the Discernment Session

The following checklist enumerates details the convener needs to keep in mind at the time that the discernment group meets:

  1. Arrive well ahead of the starting time, arrange the furniture, welcome the focus person, attend to the focus person’s comfort.
  2. Begin at the appointed time. If the focus person does not know all of the discerners, invite the discerners to say something about themselves. Offer some words to relax and reassure the focus person. Perhaps offer short prayer.
  3. Announce a period of silence for centering (specify the intended length).
  4. Conclude the silence with the Thomas Merton Prayer on the last page of Listening Hearts, 20th Anniversary Edition, or some other prayer or passage of Scripture.
  5. Ask the focus person to articulate the issue for discernment and give a bit of background.
  6. When the focus person finishes speaking, thank him or her. Then check to make sure that the question is clear to everyone. Once the question is clear, invite questions, first to clarify the information and then to explore the rational aspects of the issue.
  7. Provide opportunity for questions that come from the head to be asked first. Then suggest that the group take some time for silence so that the mind can descend into the heart. At this point, the pace should become slower with questions becoming reflective and evocative.
  8. After an hour-and-twenty minutes, if no one has requested a break and the group has not yet moved to the concluding segment, begin to look for an opening to announce a break. Suggest a length for the break. Propose whether it be silent or talking. Permit an opportunity for the group to make alternate proposals.
  9. Following the break, reconvene the group by saying a prayer and/or requesting a short period of silence.
  10. Two-and-a-half -hours after the starting time – unless the group has already moved into the concluding portion – state that the time has arrived to give the focus person the opportunity to make requests.
  11. No later than ten minutes before the closing time, ask if anyone feels that another session is desirable. If the group decides to meet again, ask everyone to get out their calendars and schedule another meeting. (You will continue on as convener.)
  12. Invite a time of free and open closing prayers. Conclude the prayers in some suitable way.

If anyone suggests that the discernment session end before the full time has passed, check with the group to determine if everyone concurs. If any member of the group feels that it is premature to conclude, the session should continue on for the full amount of time. If everyone agrees that it is time to wrap up, then the convener initiates the final half-hour portion by inviting questions of the focus person. Once the focus person begins making requests, discerners should not revert to asking questions and should limit their responses to what the focus person asks of them.

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