The hour and a half long conversation covered topics such as how we have conversations around human sexuality in our local church contexts, in our personal and professional ministries, and how we uphold the truths we have come to interpret and understand through the authority of scripture and how we relate those truths to our ministry throughout the world as United Methodists.
Manet Shettle, President of the United Methodist Foundation of Indiana, shared her encounter at the 2016 General Conference in Portland. “I was able to have conversations with people from around the world about some of the issues we currently face, and they differ vastly from our understanding and that’s one of the things that tends to become, somewhat, insulated in the United States — that it’s about us. Our job as delegates is to help our districts understand that there’s an international group of us.”
Debra Jarvis, who has spent time training our facilitators throughout the districts in preparation for these conversations, noted that the facilitators are trained to be neutral, encouraging open dialogue that does not hinder or prohibit. “The Lenten Study is about how we talk to each other, the book is the vehicle by which we do that,” said Jarvis. The facilitator trainings provide a space for clergy and laypersons to actively discuss the best ways to approach the content at hand, draw honest and fruitful input from participants by having them share thoughts among themselves, and exploring ways to move beyond preconceived notions and opinions.
Doug Worthington, Chairperson of the Council of Finance and Administration, was impressed by the ways Dr. Hansen’s book engages readers. He shared that it’s not simply a matter of reading through it and formulating your own judgment based on the text. The book creates ample opportunity for active engagement throughout. “It challenges you to start asking questions. If you use it well, it’s pretty insightful in helping us to challenge our own beliefs and thoughts.”
“It [the book] challenged me to set aside assumptions so that I could have healthy conversations,” stated Emily Krach, Associate Director of Leadership Development – Emerging Leaders. “We can assume so many things when we’re having ‘heated’ conversations and as we’re starting to feel some level of emotion.” Emily states that book was effective in encouraging her to “pause and say ‘where am I making an assumption? As opposed to truly trying to understand what I want to say.”
A considerable part of the conversation revolved around how our environment plays a pivotal role in the structure of our dialogue and the direction it’s likely to sway. The Rev. Russ Abel, Senior Pastor at St. Joseph UMC, stated: “We all tend to gravitate toward voices that sound a lot like our own so the more diversity we can have in these types of conversations, the more shaped my discernment process will be.” Ensuring that different voices are a part of these conversations helps to pose questions, present challenges, and provide critical input that we may not have considered. It challenges our internal dilemmas that may involve discerning God’s wishes and risk displeasing the people we care about and being seen as anything other than a friend and servant of God.
“My hope is that people who participate in the district conversations will be equipped in both their personal interactions and in their readings and their prayers to go back to their local churches and to be leaders in the conversation there,” said Lisa Schubert Nowling as she shared her desire to see the conversation move beyond the Conference level as we engage with those in our mission fields throughout the state of Indiana and beyond.
The conversations will continue in-person throughout the districts every Wednesday beginning March 7. To learn more about upcoming opportunities for conversations through the districts and register to attend, click here.
A high quality or “studio version" video recap of the conversation is available for viewing and sharing BELOW:
You can find "Is it time?" (ISBN: 9781501859731) can be found , for $14.99, at abingtonpress.com.