Deacon Brandon Schneider has heard a lot about listening.

The transitional deacon, preparing for ordination to the priesthood later this year, is facilitating a program called Ananias Training at Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Church in Middlebury. It helps participants recognize the stages of another’s spiritual journey through compassionate listening.

Listening, he said, includes being supportive but not judgmental, recognizing the speaker’s individual dignity and worth, taking him or her seriously, not using labels and focusing on the person who is speaking.

In an age where the written word — through email, text and social media — can seem to rule, the spoken word has a special place because it is through personal conversation that “you’re interacting with the whole person, making a face-to-face connection,” Deacon Schneider said.

Inspired by the role Ananias played in St. Paul’s journey to Christ, the Ananias Training helps participants listen lovingly to someone’s real questions and opinions about God in order to guide the discovery of how God is present and active in a person’s life, talk about their relationship with God, share how they came to be a disciple of Jesus and share Jesus’ own story in response to the spiritual hunger of another.

There are nine participants in the Ananias Training; selected active parishioners of the Middlebury church and St. Bernadette Church in Bridport were invited to participate in the fall/spring program.

They discuss the three journeys “everyone is on,” Deacon Schneider said: personal relationship with Jesus, sacramental and practice. “Everyone is on a different place in all of them.”

Jonathan Connor, a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church, has seen many people slowly leave the Church. “I joined the [Ananias] program because I was hoping it would give me some guidelines on how to be better at evangelizing to those who no longer feel the need to attend church,” he said. “So far the program has been helpful in teaching us to be better at listening to the person we are talking to and asking the right questions that may help them think about their own spiritual journey. The program has also made us look into our own spiritual journey and show us how God has worked in our lives.”

He hopes to be an instrument God uses in helping them progress along that spiritual journey and find the joy and the peace that comes from being a part of His Church.

The training is a 17-hour process structured in five sessions, designed to form parishioners with no previous training in “the art of spiritual accompaniment.” The training uses scripture reflections, video and facilitated discussions; its goal is to form people equipped to be Ananias to one another within the Church as well as to those in the world, within the context of one’s own charisms and personal vocation.

“This training is important because it focuses on listening — listening to the spiritual journey of the anther person,” said Father Luke Austin, pastor. “It is important to parish life because it prepares us to evangelize, important to the Church because the upcoming synod looks at how we listen within the Church and important to society in general as the training helps participants not take labels people use for themselves at face value.”

The training is a fruit of the Diocesan Synod and is funded through the generosity of the St. Bernadette Christ Our Hope donors.

—Originally published in the Spring 2022 issue of Vermont Catholic magazine.