After the afternoon plenary session on Thursday, time and space was made available to practice Christian Conferencing and dialogue.
Rev. Beth Newton Watson, Conference Chaplain, began the Critical Conversations session with a heartfelt prayer, followed by Bishop Trimble’s introduction of Mrs. Patricia Miller, a member of The Commission on a Way Forward. Bishop Trimble and Mrs. Miller gave updates on the efforts of The Commission on a Way Forward and their plan to present their report to the 2019 General Conference.
Dr. W. Craig Gilliam and Betty Johnson then led a presentation on creating space for critical and generative conversations. Gilliam began by discussing incorporating a ritual into your conversation space through the use of items such as a Christ candle, a bell, a talking object, and several other items to create a conversation ‘center.’ Attendees were invited to participate in brief conversation exercises around their tables. Other topics included principles and reminders for creating an open and respectful space for discussion. As Ms. Betty Johnson put it, “The space around us is only as open as the space within us.”
Dr. Gilliam also discussed an “I-It” model versus an “I-Thou” model of approaching conversation based on Jewish philosopher and author Martin Buber’s work, I and Thou. Through this model, one emphasis was the role and responsibility of each participant in a critical conversation to “listen with compassion and curiosity.” With these “interlocking systems” present inside a group conversation, the goal is to discover how to always model Christ to the world through our critical and generative conversations.