If the community is rather large, some chosen for their good repute and holy life should be made deans. They will take care of their groups of ten, managing all affairs according to the commandments of God and the orders of their prioress or abbot. Anyone selected as a dean should be the kind of person with whom the prioress or abbot can confidently share the burdens of office. They are to be chosen for their virtuous living and wise teaching, not for their rank.
If perhaps one of these deans is found to be puffed up with any pride, and so deserving of censure, they are to be reproved once, twice, and even a third time. Should they refuse to amend, they must be removed from office and replaced by another who is worthy. We prescribe the same course of action in regard to the subprioress or prior.
Some community members, as they grow, are discovered to have a gift for communal leadership. As they live the life of the Rule, this gift arises in their deepening commitment and expression. Traits of this leadership, this spiritual and humble practice, were explored in chapter 2. What is important to say again here is that the foundation of Christian and spiritual leadership is about being settled enough within God and self so that self is forgotten in the service of others. This is what it is to be of ‘good repute’ and ‘holy life’. The personality of the leader and their focus are built on this foundation.
A dean is humble enough to enact the vision of communal leadership they are a part of. They know and accept their place. In larger communities of the Rule this is vital if the life of the Spirit and Benedict’s vision of leadership are to be seen as a part of the everyday of communal life. If a dean is more about micro-management and control, then there will be little effective space for the communal life to develop as its own; the dean will want a hand in everything.
For community to be community, responsibility must be shared otherwise we risk the growth of a top-down structure that gives limited room for members to grow in their own uniqueness and giftedness – a growth in responsibility in itself. The relationships between all involved in communal leadership can be an example of how this space and support is given for responsibility to grow. To this end, the Rule provides every chance and encouragement for deans to learn and be humble in their role. A Community Leader will then be more confident in sharing leadership with a responsible dean.
In being of service to groups of ten it is possible for deans to lead relationally, getting to know the people in their care, their personalities and circumstance. If the group is too large, this way of leading becomes too much of a challenge; consultation could easily give way to a more centralised and uninformed approach.
Within our house community, while we have no deans, things such as leading meditation evenings, leading daily prayers, coordinating cooking and cleaning rosters, and filling in when the house coordinator is away could all be seen as dean-like roles. Likewise, in family settings, some aunts, uncles, and grandparents in the support they provide to nieces, nephews, or their adult children, are also in a role compatible with that of a dean.
Within The WCCM, the leaders of weekly meditation groups could be seen as dean-like. The groups themselves are generally of a suitable size. Leaders are experienced enough meditators, willing to use the outline recommended for group meetings. They have done the training and are open to support. They are humble enough to utilize the teaching resources given to them for use in groups, while being able to add, if necessary, their own reflections. Ideally, the group leader is leading because they feel drawn to give to others from the fruit of their own meditation practice; the virtue and wisdom growing in their own lives now serves others.
After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest….Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. (Luke 10: 1-2, 4-6, NRSV)