Article

Courageous Conversation about the Way Forward

Introduction

This sample outline could easily have skipped the first session and limited the conversation to discussing the three plans submitted by the Way Forward Commission.  However, that would be like digging into the main entree without bothering about the appetizers and forsaking the ambiance and companionship of those with whom we have the pleasure of dining. Sure, the entrée might be the highlight of the meal, but you’d miss out on the complete experience. To continue the metaphor, the main course will be best enjoyed when it is placed in its proper place. Thus, preplanning a Courageous Conversation with a design team and an introductory lesson just to build relationships might seem like a lot of additional work, but your efforts here will be highly rewarded!

Conversations with the amount of passion and anxiety that they are likely to produce will result in indigestion if proper attention has not been given to the full context. These conversations require planning so that participants are in postures of learning and are not combative. Use diligence and care to ensure that learning and fruitful dialogue are the result and not further friction, division, or worse.

Sessions

The outline is presented in sessions. This gives the flexibility to have one longer event with four sessions to be completed over one or two days; or a church may complete the four sessions over a four-week (or longer) period. If other plans become available, using the template of sessions two to four, it would be easy to add additional sessions as needed. All the sessions are based on a 90-minute time frame, with the exception of session four, which is approximately 110-minutes. It includes an additional question and Communion.

The hymns are not included in the time frame given. While they are optional and there should be enough time flexibility to fit the hymns into the time frame, it is recommended that the group members sing together. As United Methodists, we sing our faith because singing together is a powerful reminder that all we do, we do in the presence of God.

PowerPoint

There is an accompanying PowerPoint presentation for those who would like to use it. It is only a template. Please add prayers, covenants, and so on for the unique needs of your church.

PrePlanning

It is recommended that the burden for planning this event or series of events should be shared among a small group of participants. This group (design team) will be responsible for designing the event to achieve named outcomes and the best environment for a Courageous Conversation to take place. This group should consider:

Outcomes

  • What specific outcome(s) would we like to see as a result? (Voting? Consensus? Respect?)
    • Learning from one another
    • Building trust and deepening relationships
  • What follow up needs to happen after the event?

What guidelines or covenant will we use?

Context

  • What assumptions are likely to be brought?
  • How can we make this event inviting and hospitable?
  • How will the event be advertised?
  • How will the pastor be involved?
  • How can we be sure the environment promotes courage?
  • Are there audiovisual needs to be considered? (Microphones, projector, laptops, etc.)
  • How many conversations will the event include?

Who is likely to show up?

  • How many people?
  • Demographics?
  • Relationship to the church?
  • Is this conversation for church leaders or the whole church body?

What should the room environment include?

  • Round tables?
  • Snacks or meal?
  • Candles?
  • Space for personal reflection?

Will small-group facilitators be needed?

  • How will they be trained?
  • Who will train them?
  • How many will be needed?

Miscellaneous

  • How will we know when someone is out of line?
    • What will our process be for handling those who are out of line?
  • How will participants engage in the information? (Will videos be shown during the event or links emailed ahead of time? Will articles be read ahead of time or at the event?)
  • Should we explore having these conversations with a nearby United Methodist Church? (This can be helpful if your local church is unanimous or near unanimous in its perspective. It might also help in sharing the cost of printing the PDFs of the petitions.)

For this group to be cohesive and as a model to future participants, this planning group can have its own round of Courageous Conversations. This will serve as a model and can help catch any potential glitches. 

Setting for a Courageous Environment:

Set up the room with tables (round tables are preferable) with no more than six chairs per table.

Place “Guidelines for the Conversation” around the room in large print or on a projection screen.

As participants enter the room, have them choose a number from a basket. Invite them to sit at the table marked with the number that matches the number they have drawn.

Needed:

  • Basket with numbers
  • Tables for small-group discussions
  • Table numbers for each table
  • Candles for each table
  • Small crosses or some other markers to serve as talking sticks (two-minute plastic hourglass game timers work well)
  • Printout or screen for displaying “Guidelines for the Conversation”
  • Printout of prayers (See “Prayer Guide.”)
  • Large sheet of paper and markers
  • Small pieces of paper and pens or pencils
  • Tape or adhesive to post the large sheet of paper
  • Hymnal or copies of hymns
  • Communion Elements (Session 4)

Recommended:

Microphone to enable everyone to hear the speakers clearly

Copies of the petitions for each of the plans (See Resources for link)

 


Session 1 – Introduction

Estimated Timeline

The following is based on a 90-minute time frame. Adjust as needed.

Opening Prayer (3 minutes)

Overview and Goals (5 minutes)

Hymn

Micro Groups (10 minutes)

Special Called General Conference Overview (5 minutes)

Video – Parable for Today (5 minutes)

Personal and Large-Group Reflection (5 minutes)

Video – Patricia and Matt (8 minutes)

Small-Group Talk Back (10 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Small-Group Time (20 minutes)

Large-Group Reflection (12 minutes)

Closing Prayer (2 minutes)

Opening Prayer

  • Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)

Overview

  • Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this is a space for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. Emphasize that participants are to listen for the assumptions underlying their own and other people’s perspectives.

Micro Groups

  • Form people into groups with no more than three persons in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer the question, “How did you come to participate with a United Methodist congregation?” Remind participants that this is a time for relationship building, naming, and listening, not discussion – that will come later.

Special Called General Conference Overview

  • How did we get here?
    • 1972 wording in the Book of Discipline
    • General Conference debates and procedures
    • 2016 General Conference asked for bishops to lead out of the quandary
    • Council of Bishops created Way Forward Commission of bishops, pastors, and laity

Goals

  • Lay out the goals/outcomes that your dialogues hope to produce. These could include:
    • Learning information about the Way Forward Commission and the Special Called General Conference
    • Learning from one another
    • Build deeper relationships across ideology
    • Witness to love among disagreement

Parable for Today by Gil Rendle

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8ZGS6Dpl9g&feature=youtu.be
  • Downloading or importing the YouTube video into the PowerPoint ahead of time will help keep technical issues from arising.
  • Gil Rendle asserted that “working together has more to do with listening carefully to each other than claiming our position and speaking clearly.” Gil went on to distinguish between positions and interests. The parable shows that instead of seeking compromise, a better way forward is to discover interests that will provide for deeper conversations instead of just debating positions.
    • Personal Reflection Time
  • Allow participants two to three minutes to write down their top convictions (interests) that shape their beliefs regarding LGBTQ inclusion in the church.
  • Large-Group Reflection
    • As a large group, allow participants, one at a time (if they are willing), to share one of the top convictions they listed during their personal reflection time.
    • Another option would be for participants to write their convictions on a sticky note. Then have them place all the sticky notes where they can be displayed. During the break time, participants can read the sticky notes (without comment).

Way Forward Commission Video – Patricia Miller and Matt Berryman

  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbR96EBl5Qk
  • Downloading or importing the YouTube video into the PowerPoint ahead of time will help keep technical issues from arising.
  • Talk back in small groups
    • What do you take away from Patricia’s and Matt’s relationship?
    • Why do you think Patricia and Matt are able to disagree well? (“open, blunt honesty”)
    • Do you agree with Matt’s assertion that we are often stuck in systems that perpetuate harm without our intent?

Break

Small-Group Time

  • This style of small-group dialogue emphasizes clarity of thought and naming assumptions or perceptions about the topic. The focus here is on attentive listening, not debating or persuading.
  • Ask participants to sit with their assigned table number. Identify the cross on the table or other object to be used as a talking stick. Clarify that only the person with the talking stick may speak, and the other group members are to practice attentive listening. Each participant has five minutes to answer one or more questions. Print out and/or display the following questions:
    • What Bible stories or passages shape how you view inclusion (ordination and marriage) of LGBTQ persons?
    • Where do you see God leading the church regarding inclusion (ordination and marriage) of LGBTQ persons?

Large-Group Reflection Time

  • This time is for the larger group to hear some of the statements that were made during the small-group time, reflecting on the perspectives heard from other participants.
  • This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
  • If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
  • An optional closing exercise would be to ask, “Imagine you get to heaven and your belief about human sexuality is wrong. What did you overlook?”
  • Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I will take with me from this conversation is…”

Homework

Closing Prayer

  • End with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)

 


Session 2 – One Church Plan

Estimated Timeline

- The following is based on a 90-minute time frame. Adjust as needed.

Opening Prayer (3 minutes)

Overview and Goals (5 minutes)

Hymn

Micro Groups (5 minutes)

Opening Question (10 minutes)

Introduce the One Church Plan (5 minutes)

Video – Bishops Recommend the One Church Plan (5 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (15minutes)

Large-Group Reflection (15 minutes)

Closing Prayer (2 minutes)

Opening Prayer

  • Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)

Overview

  • Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this is a safe space for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. Emphasize that participants are to listen for the assumptions underlying their own and other people’s perspectives.

Micro Groups

  • Form people into groups with no more than three persons in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer the question, “Is there anything keeping you from being fully present?” Remind participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not discussion – that will come later.

Opening Question

  • Ideally, participants should be at round tables of no more than five or six participants per table. Participants should be at assigned tables based on the number they drew when they entered the area. This will help mix people up with people they are not as familiar with, and they will be more likely to hear from a diversity of perspectives.
  • Participants should speak only when they have the talking stick. Other participants should listen, wait their turn to speak, and ask questions of other participants. The plastic two-minute hourglass-shaped timers are handy because limit how long each participant can speak. Each participant should have at least one time to talk before the talking stick gets passed around again. If a participant does not use the whole two minutes, the next person can use his/her best estimate to use only two minutes of time.
  • The opening question is aimed at building on adults’ personal experience. Engaging experience puts participants on equal ground; we are all experts on our own experience. Additionally, this helps participants see one another beyond labels and misrepresentations.
  • Question: “What have your interactions been with LGBTQ persons?”

Introduce the One Church Plan

  • See resources for details.

Video – Bishops Recommend the One Church Plan

  • Because this plan is the one recommended by the bishops, it is the only plan that has an official video from the Council of Bishops.
  • Link: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/f03rtma3lqm952o/AACnrW8UuCiQ48vFRMX6o0h8a?dl=0
    • If possible, download the video ahead of time. This will reduce the chances that technical problems will arise. Clicking on or copying and pasting this link into a web browser will take you to a Dropbox page with several videos. Find the link that works with your computer. Use the Download button on the top right to download it to your computer.
  • Questions
    • This is a time for questions regarding this specific plan. A time for dialogue and the plan’s impact will come later.

Small-Group Dialogue (Part 1)

  • Timewise, you should take about ten minutes each for the three questions and then approximately five minutes for the last question.
    • First question, “What can you affirm in the One Church Plan?”
      • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.
    • Second question, “What in the One Church Plan raises questions?”
      • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.

Break

Small-Group Dialogue (Part 2)

  • Third question, “What causes you the most concern about the One Church Plan?”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.
  • Finish the sentence, “If the Special Called General Conference adopted this plan, I would…”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.

Large-Group Reflection

  • This time is for the larger group to hear some of the statements that were made during the small-group time, reflecting on the perspectives heard from other participants.
  • This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
  • If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
  • The facilitator should ask for brief answers from each table for the following:
    • What did your small group affirm about the One Church Plan?
    • What questions were raised about the One Church Plan?
    • What caused your small group the most concern about the One Church Plan?
  • Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I learned from our time together is…”

Homework

Closing Prayer

 


Session 3 – Connectional Conference Plan

Estimated Timeline

- The following is based on a 90-minute time frame. Adjust as needed.

Opening Prayer (3 minutes)

Overview and Goals (5 minutes)

Hymn

Micro Groups (5 minutes)

Opening Question (10 minutes)

Introduce the Connectional Conference Plan (5 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (15minutes)

Large-Group Reflection (15 minutes)

Closing Prayer (2 minutes)

Opening Prayer

  • Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)

Overview

  • Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this is a safe space for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. Emphasize that participants are to listen for the assumptions underlying their own and other people’s perspectives.

Micro Groups

  • Form people into groups with no more than three persons in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer the question, “Is there anything keeping you from being fully present?” Remind participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not discussion – that will come later.

Opening Question

  • Ideally, participants should be at round tables of no more than five or six participants per table. Participants should be at assigned tables based on the number they drew when they entered the area. This will help mix people up with people they are not as familiar with, so they will hear from a diversity of perspectives.
  • Participants should speak only when they have the talking stick. Other participants should listen, wait their turn to speak, and ask questions of other participants. The plastic two-minute hourglass-shaped timers are handy because they limit how long each participant can speak. Each participant should have at least one time to talk before the talking stick gets passed around again. If a participant does not use the whole two minutes, the next person can use his/her best estimate to use only two minutes of time.
  • The opening question is aimed at building on adults’ personal experience. Engaging experience puts participants on equal ground; we are all experts on our own experience. Additionally, this helps participants see one another beyond labels and misrepresentations.
    • Question: “What are you most curious about regarding the possibility of LGBTQ persons’ inclusion (ordination and marriage) in the UMC?”

Introduce the Connectional Conference Plan

  • See resources for details.
  • Questions
    • This is a time for questions regarding this specific plan. A time for dialogue and the plan’s impact will come later.

Small-Group Dialogue (Part 1)

  • Timewise, you should allow about ten minutes each for the three questions and then approximately five minutes for the last question.
    • First question, “What can you affirm in the Connectional Church Plan?”
      • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.
    • Second question, “What in the Connectional Church Plan raises questions?”
      • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.

Break

Small-Group Dialogue (Part 2)

  • Third question, “What causes you the most concern about the Connectional Church Plan?”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.
  • Finish the sentence, “If the Special Called General Conference adopted this plan, I would…”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.

Large-Group Reflection

  • This time is for the larger group to hear some of the statements that were made during the small-group time, reflecting on the perspectives heard from other participants.
  • This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
  • If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
  • The facilitator should ask for brief answers from each table for the following:
    • What did your small group affirm about the Connectional Church Plan?
    • What questions were raised about the Connectional Church Plan?
    • What caused your small group the most concern about the Connectional Church Plan?
  • Before ending, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I learned from our time together is…”

Homework

Closing Prayer

 


Session 4 – Traditional Plan

Estimated Timeline

- The following is based on a 110-minute time frame. Adjust as needed.

Opening Prayer (3 minutes)

Overview and Goals (5 minutes)

Hymn

Micro Groups (5 minutes)

Opening Question (10 minutes)

Introduce the Traditional Plan (5 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (20 minutes)

Break (5 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (15minutes)

Large-Group Reflection (15 minutes)

Small-Group Dialogue (10 minutes)

Hymn

Communion (10 minutes)

Closing Prayer (2 minutes)

Opening Prayer

  • Begin with silence and/or the lighting of a candle to represent God’s presence. This time of silence is important to center yourselves and mark the space and time as unique. Have a copy of the prayer for everyone to follow along or participate in the prayer. (See “Prayer Guide” for sample prayers.)

Overview

  • Point out and read the conversation guidelines. Reinforce that this is a safe space for people to freely express their opinions and perspectives. Emphasize that participants are to listen for the assumptions underlying their own and other people’s perspectives.

Micro Groups

  • Form people into groups with no more than three persons in each group. Allow each participant no more than two minutes to answer the question, “Is there anything keeping you from being fully present?” Remind participants that this is a time of naming and listening, not discussion – that will come later.

Opening Question

  • Ideally, participants should be at round tables of no more than five or six participants per table. Participants should be at assigned tables based on the number they drew when they entered the area. This will help mix people up with people they are not as familiar with, so they will be more likely to hear from a diversity of perspectives.
  • Participants should speak only when they have the talking stick. Other participants should listen, wait their turn to speak, and ask questions of other participants. The plastic two-minute hourglass shaped timers are handy because they limit how long each participant can speak. Each participant should have at least one time to talk before the talking stick gets passed around again. If a participant does not use the whole two minutes, the next person can use his/her best estimate to use only two minutes of time.
  • The opening question is aimed at building on adults’ personal experience. Engaging experience puts participants on equal ground; we are all experts on our own experience. Additionally, this helps participants see one another beyond labels and misrepresentations.
    • Question: “What are your biggest concerns for the Special Called General Conference in 2019?”

Introduce the Traditional Plan

  • See resources for details.
  • Questions
    • This is a time for questions regarding this specific plan. A time for dialogue and the plan’s impact will come later.

Small-Group Dialogue (Part 1)

  • Timewise, you should have about ten minutes each for the three questions and then approximately five minutes for the last question.
  • First question, “What can you affirm in the Traditional Plan?”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.
  • Second question, “What in the Traditional Plan raises questions?”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.

Break

Small-Group Dialogue (Part 2)

  • Third question, “What causes you the most concern about the Traditional Plan?”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.
  • Finish the sentence, “If the Special Called General Conference adopted this plan, I would…”
    • After posting and/or reading the question, give one minute of silence before allowing the groups to begin their dialogue.

Large-Group Reflection

  • This time is for the larger group to hear some of the statements that were made during the small-group time, reflecting on the perspectives heard from other participants.
  • This is the part of the exercise that will require the most from the facilitator. The facilitator should not voice any of his or her own opinions or comments, but encourage the freedom of various other perspectives. The facilitator’s role is also to clarify assumptions and issues for the group. Additionally, the facilitator will need to model calm when anxiety grows as the result of particular comments.
  • If possible, ask participants to use a microphone when they speak so that everyone can hear. Give a time limit for how long each person may speak. One way to emphasize attentive listening is to have participants state only what others have stated. This is intended to keep people from stating their own perspectives (and often pet agendas).
  • The facilitator should ask for brief answers from each table for the following:
    • What did your small group affirm about the Traditional Plan?
    • What questions were raised about the Traditional Plan?
    • What caused your small group the most concern about the Traditional Plan?
  • Before ending this section, allow any participant who would like to answer in one sentence, “One thing that I learned from our time together is…”

Small-Group Dialogue

  • What is your greatest hope for The United Methodist Church?

Communion

Closing Hymn

Closing Prayer

  • Highlight the Praying Our Way Forward resource from the Upper Room. To sign up and for more information visit www.UMCprays.org

 


Resources about the Way Forward Commission

Three Plans submitted by Way Forward Commission to Council of Bishops: http://cdnfiles.umc.org/Website_Properties/who-we-are/judicial-council/judicial-council-dockets/docket-10-2018-12.pdf

Summary of Three Plans:

The One Church Plan

  • The One Church Plan would have the denomination recognize that marriage is between two adults, not explicitly between one man and one woman. It would allow pastors to decide whether or not to preside at same-sex weddings, and it would give local churches the right to decide whether or not same-sex weddings could take place in their sanctuaries. Finally, it would allow annual conferences to decide whether or not to ordain self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.

The Connectional Conference Plan

  • The Connectional Conference Plan would create three branches of the church, referred to as Connectional Conferences. While the three branches would share responsibility and receive support from a number of general church boards and agencies and operate under a unified Council of Bishops, each branch would have a significant degree of autonomy when it comes to sexual ethics, teachings on marriage, and ordination standards.

The Traditional Plan

  • The Traditional Plan would reaffirm The United Methodist Church’s present teachings on human sexuality and call for enhanced accountability standards for clergy, bishops, and annual conferences. United Methodist clergy would not be allowed to preside at same-sex weddings, and same-sex weddings would not be allowed on United Methodist property. Self-avowed, practicing homosexuals would not be eligible for ordination in The United Methodist Church.

 

 

Additional Resources

(The following resources are not an endorsement of any particular viewpoint. Rather, these are some of many potential resources that could benefit those looking for more information or in help to broaden perspectives.)