A Lived Experience of Local Animation - Ireland

We want to work together to find appropriate ways of strengthening the local, taking into account the lived reality of each area

One of the key elements of the proposed new structures for Animation and Government for our Congregation is Participatory Animation. The CIAG document (Document B, October 2011) suggests that this would "promote creativity, exchange networks with the community, between communities and with others". The Provincial’s Report to the Provincial Chapter 2010 referring to Animation states that "we need to work together over the next three years to find appropriate ways of strengthening the local, taking into account the lived reality of each area." One of the very spontaneous informal ways in which participatory animation has developed in our Province has been through the development of Cluster Groups. It has been a way of "strengthening the local" which one might call a "bottom-up approach".
Our cluster group began five years ago when three Little Sisters came to live in our house in Swords Road in Dublin and formed a new community there. After a while they invited the other two Little Sisters who were living on the north-side of Dublin, in Ballymun, to join them for some conversations. They looked outwards and invited three sisters who were living alone, two in Belfast and one in Dublin to join. Thus the seeds of the cluster group were sown.
Over the years, this cluster group has had a total of 11 sisters who have been part of it, some for shorter periods and some for longer. This includes three sisters who at the time were living singly. The main focus of the group has been a regular monthly meeting which rotates between the Swords Road. and the Ballymun houses. This is a time for prayer and reflection on our lives which we find enriching and which is creative.
We usually begin with a time of reflection on our lived experience, i.e. a "round" where each one shares something of how she experiences life in its day-to-day reality for her as an LSA, and its meaning for her, for example, a particular challenge or a joy or a transition… This simple time of sharing creates bonds of relationship between us. When there is province work to be done, we do it together in the cluster group. We find this helpful as it broadens our horizons out beyond the local reality in which each of us lives. For the province work on CIAG, we joined up with another cluster group. Sometimes we might read an article together and discuss it, or perhaps someone who has attended a lecture might share on that. We organized a Day of Reflection in Advent 2011 to which we invited the members of another cluster along with some of our Lay Companions.
Shared Responsibility:
Together we share responsibility for organizing our cluster group meetings, for preparing the prayer, for taking the minutes and for the hospitality we offer each other. On the occasion of the illness of a member of our cluster group, we were happy to be able to share in her care.
Social Aspect:
The cluster group is not only a place for serious reflection. We have also incorporated a celebratory element, as for example, when we went away for a week-end together to the sea, or had a day out together to visit a place of interest. Christmas is a special time when we get together to celebrate.
As already stated, the experience of the cluster group has been an initiative which emerged spontaneously, from the ground up, in response to the felt need of LSAs for shared animation. It has been a simple structure which has enabled us to share responsibility together for the quality of our lives as LSAs. Reflecting back on our journey together over the past five years, we note that there has been quite a lot of movement in and out of the group. This is partly because sisters at times moved away to live elsewhere and occasionally because the cluster group no longer met the particular needs of a sister. However there has been a core of five sisters who are member of the group since it began. We have tried to be flexible in deciding on the day and time of the monthly meeting, taking into consideration the needs and commitments of newer members when they join. While we consider this openness to be an important aspect, at the same time our experience would suggest that a cluster group functions best when there are about 6 – 8 members. If the number gets too big, there is danger of losing some of the life-giving elements. 
Our experience together has offered us a creative way of participatory animation at this time of changing structures in the Congregation. Like any structure, in order to bear fruit it requires a time commitment, a willingness to share life and responsibilities, and an openness to changing membership, (in order to bear fruit). While this latter can be challenging at times, yet our experience overall is that it has been a positive way for us to deepen our lives as LSA together, thus "strengthening the local".
Sisters Eileen, Carmel, Peigi, Irene, Carmel, Bride, Ann
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