In 2020, after 22 consecutive years as the busiest airport in the world, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport dropped to number two, as Covid-19 changed the way we travel.
I arrived at this airport eight years earlier for the first time. I had been told, “Once you arrive and have your bags, go to the atrium area… there you will find your fellow summer missionaries.” I was joining a group of university-aged people from across the United States to spend six weeks working at a Catholic Summer Camp. We gathered in that atrium, all nervous and not sure what to expect.
Thomas O’Loughlin suggests that a “meeting point” at an airport can be a basic image that we can use in exploring the concept of synodality. He explains that this kind of meeting point assumes that we are all coming from different places and directions – we have different needs, problems and insights but that we meet on common ground, as equals.
I didn’t know it at the time, but for me, those six weeks that followed are a powerful lived experience of synodality. We were there with the sole task of journeying with groups of teenagers every week. Of encouraging them, of listening to them, of hoping to lead them into relationship with one another, with the Church and with Christ. As a group of young adults, we also did that for each other.
It’s been almost ten years now since I first arrived at Atlanta Airport. In that time I’ve been able to experience the more formal side of Synod in the Church, both in New Zealand and on an international level. In all of those experiences; whether it was at the Vatican, or in our capital city or the muddy fields of the North Georgia mountains, I know that synodality changes us.
I’ve been changed by the experience of those six intense, messy, American enthusiasm filled weeks at camp. I’ve been changed by the opportunity to be part of groups of young people, each representing every continent in the world and to together tell Pope Francis about our lived reality.
But I’ve also been changed by the messy, hard and heartfelt conversations I’ve found myself in, in the most ordinary of places.
Synodality is about us meeting on common ground, as equals. Of actually listening to one another and importantly, to the Holy Spirit. It’s about being with one another. I believe that if we can find ways to gather together, to leave our own agenda behind and enter in openness to the ill-defined but unfolding reality of synodality right now, then we’ll all be better for it. And our Church will be better for it.
On a practical level, in March 2022, that means engaging in the local phase of the synod that is underway around the world. Beyond that, well I hope it means a renewed way of being Church together.