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Courageous Conversations following the Special Called General Conference

Session 1 Outline

Introduction

The following is a two-session outline for guiding a local church conversation following the special called General Conference. This is only a sample. The intent for this resource is to help participants to process their emotions following a tumultuous 2019 special called General Conference. While the setting and sequencing is intentional, adjust as needed. Session one focuses on participants’ emotional responses to the decisions of the General Conference. Engaging emotions first will enable more thoughtful and discerning conversations, which are the focus of session two.

Although it will be tempting for churches not to include a practice dialogue, it can be beneficial for participants to engage in a different style of conversation. It also sets the tone that listening and learning from all participants is encouraged and valued. The moments of silence, while perhaps awkward, will become appreciated as times for personal reflection. Additionally, elements such as food, singing together, and rituals such as Communion should not be easily dismissed, as they forge relationships and remind us of the God we worship and who is with us as we do the work of discernment.

While the two sessions could be done on one day, it is advisable to hold the sessions on different days and even a week apart. Churches may consider extending into three or more sessions to focus on specific exercises. Another option to consider is ending one or each of the lessons by a “Remembering Your Baptism” service instead of Communion.

Setting

  • Setting the environment is important to encourage an atmosphere of reverence and intentionality.
  • Project or post a covenant or conversation guidelines. A covenant or guidelines will help participants know what to expect in terms of the tone of the conversation. It can be helpful to distinguish a safe space (where participants are cautious with their language so as to not offend) from a brave space (where exploratory questions are encouraged).
  • Round tables or even circles of chairs without tables are useful for participants to be able to communicate within their small group.
  • As participants enter the room, instruct them to choose a number that corresponds to a numbered table or set of chairs. Participants then sit at the corresponding table or circle of chairs. Six people per table or area are recommended for the best small-group dynamics.
  • Each table or open area of a circle of chairs should include a centerpiece (for example, a cross), some identifying marker for participants to know their table assignment (could use numbers or fruits of the spirit), and a talking stick, and/or timer. Another optional component is to have cards with conversation starters for early participants to begin to relate with one another. A talking stick can be a small cross or a plastic two-minute game timer. The beneficial feature of the game timer is that it also serves as a timer to limit the speaker to two-minutes before he or she has to pass the timer to the next participant.

Materials

  • Communion elements.
  • Audiovisual equipment for any presentation; microphones for participants during the large-group time. Although many participants don’t think they need a microphone to be heard, all participants should be encouraged to use a microphone in case any one in the group is hearing impaired.
  • Slips of paper or index cards and pens or pencils for participants to write down questions during the break.

Lesson Outline

Meal/Snacks

  • Offer snacks or—even better—a meal when participants arrive. Food offers the opportunity for casual conversation and relationship building before the event.

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Housekeeping items (restrooms, snacks, audiovisuals, etc.)
  • Review the covenant. One option is to read each line of the covenant as a group. Another option is to randomly assign parts of the covenant to different participants.
  • Explain that the random table assignments were made with the hope that participants would hear different perspectives. People grow in understanding their own perspective and other perspectives when they are challenged to think through divergent understandings.
  • It would also be beneficial to express that while petitions were passed at General Conference, Judicial Council has not made their final ruling. There is still uncertainty that remains. It might also be worth noting from the beginning that while participants might feel eager to ask their questions and/or jump into debate, this process focuses on building relationships and learning from each other.
  • Opening Prayer

Centering: Ephesians 4:1-6 (5 minutes)

  • Lectio Divina-style centering exercise
  • Have as many as three different people read the passage. Pause after each reading to allow for reflective questions:
    • What word or phrase sticks with you from the passage?
    • Where do you hear God speaking to you in this passage?
    • Who is God calling you to be in light of this passage?

Opening Question (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)

  1. "What brought you here?" (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)
  • After reading (or posting on a slide) the question above, pause for one minute of silent reflection. A time of silent reflection allows introverts (and extroverts too) time to process before speaking. It will also enable participants to listen more instead of concentrating so much on what they will say when it is their turn to speak.
  • Around the circle, allow each participant no more than one minute to answer the question. Whoever would like may begin.

Hymn – upbeat song or hymn (5 minutes)

  • Singing together reminds us that although we don’t think alike, we worship the Triune God together.

Practicing Dialogue (10 minutes)

  • Topic: Which experience do you prefer—Sunday school or small groups? Or which worship experience do you prefer—traditional or contemporary?
    • Using one of the above questions, or choosing one of your own, allow participants to get a feel for this style of conversation. (Ideally, the practice topic is one where participants have different perspectives, but are not overly passionate about those perspectives.) Most adults are used to butting in and talking over one another. A true dialogue style is uncomfortable for many participants. It may feel mechanical or forced. It is normal for participants to feel slightly constrained or frustrated. However, dialogue reinforces listening and learning.
    • After reading (or posting) the question, pause for one minute of silent reflection.
    • After the minute of silent reflection, whoever would like to speak first should use the talking stick. Whatever is being used as the talking stick should be passed to the next person who would like to speak. The individual should indicate a desire to speak by raising a hand or by passing the talking stick to the right or left. Participants may pass if they don’t have anything to say.

Video from Delegation or bishop (5-10 minutes)

  • If possible, include information from your annual conference’s delegation and/or bishop.
    • This session should be focused on information. Unfortunately, misinformation will likely follow the special called General Conference. This is an opportunity to keep the participants working from the same information.
    • Another option is to have a fact sheet prepared by your conference or delegation.

Expressing Emotions (5 minutes)

  • Have colored circles (at least green, yellow, red, and blue) in the middle of the table or circle of chairs.
  • A participant should choose a color and in one minute explain why he or she chose that color:
    • “Due to decisions of the special called General Conference, I chose the color ______ because…”
  • Another option is to use cut outs of emoticons to help participants express their emotions.
    • Before engaging directly in the issues at hand, it is helpful to engage our emotions. If we jump too quickly to engaging in the dialogue, we will be tempted to engage based on emotions alone.

Break (5-Minute stretch break)

  • During the break, allow participants to write down any questions they have about the special called General Conference. They should write these out anonymously. These questions may be about the conference, about the local church, and so on.
  • Have a common collection place for the questions, so that they may be read later.
  • Questions should be submitted anonymously.

Small-Group Dialogue (45 minutes)

  • As with the practice dialogue, be certain that one minute of silence precedes dialogue for each question. Talking sticks should guide the conversation. Post the questions for all to see. It might also be advisable to take a one-minute stretch break between which question.
  1. What has been your reaction to the special called General Conference? (15 minutes)
  2. How do you think the actions (or inactions) of General Conference will affect you and your congregation? (15 minutes)
  3. What do you believe is the best way forward for your church? (15 minutes)

Large-group talk back (10 minutes)

  • What did you learn? What did you hear that was new? Or what did someone else say that you would like to affirm? What have you heard that has made you thoughtful?
    • This is a time for participants to hear from different groups.
    • One best practice is for this time to be facilitated by a trained facilitator or moderator. Facilitators keep the group focused on the process and enable participants to hear what is being expressed in the best possible light.

Written exercise (10 minutes)

  • Have a facilitator read the questions that have been submitted from the exercise during the break. As best as possible, give answers to the questions or suggest where comments and questions can be directed.
  • “What do you need to move forward? What do you still need to resolve?”
    • This could be done in a large-group or small-group format.
    • Either way, allow participants a minute or two to write down answers to these questions. Participants should be invited to place their written answers in a basket before receiving Communion.

Communion (10 minutes)

  • Ending with Communion reminds us that during our anxiety and uncertainty, our faith remains firmly in the hands of God who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

120 Minutes Total

Session 2 Outline

Setting

  • Setting the environment is important to encourage an atmosphere of reverence and intentionality.
  • Project or post a covenant or conversation guidelines. A covenant or guidelines will help participants know what to expect in terms of the tone of the conversation. It can be helpful to distinguish a safe space (where participants are cautious with their language so as to not offend) from a brave space (where exploratory questions are encouraged).
  • Round tables or even circles of chairs without tables are useful for participants to be able to communicate within their small group.
  • As participants enter the room, instruct them to choose a number that corresponds to a numbered table or set of chairs. Participants then sit at the corresponding table or circle of chairs. Six people per table or area are recommended for the best small-group dynamics.
  • Each table or open area of a circle of chairs should include a centerpiece (for example, a cross), some identifying marker for participants to know their table assignment (could use numbers or fruits of the spirit), and a talking stick and/or timer. Another optional component is to have cards with conversation starters for early participants to begin to relate with one another. A talking stick may be a small cross or a plastic two-minute game timer. The beneficial feature of the game timer is that it also serves as a timer to limit the speaker to two minutes before having to pass the timer to the next participant.

Materials

  • Communion elements.
  • Audiovisual equipment for any presentation; microphones for participants during the large-group time. Although many participants don’t think they need a microphone to be heard, all participants should be encouraged to use a microphone in case any one in the group is hearing impaired.

Lesson Outline

  • Snacks
    • Offer snacks or—even better—a meal when participants arrive. Food offers the opportunity for casual conversation and relationship building before the event.

Introduction (5 minutes)

  • Housekeeping items (restrooms, snacks, audiovisuals, etc.)
  • Review the covenant. One option is to read each line of the covenant as a group. Another option is to randomly assign parts of the covenant to different participants.
  • Explain that the random table assignments were made with the hope that participants would hear different perspectives. People grow in understanding their own perspective and other perspectives when they are challenged to think through divergent understandings.
  • Opening Prayer

Centering: James 3:8-12 or Philippians 2:1-4 (5 minutes)

  • Lectio Divina-style centering exercise
  • Have as many as three different people read the passage. Pause after each reading to allow for reflective questions:
    • What word or phrase sticks with you from the passage?
    • Where do you hear God speaking to you in this passage?
    • Who is God calling you to be in light of this passage?

Opening Question (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)

  1. "What gives you hope for this conversation?" (5 minutes; 1 minute per person at the table)
  • After reading (or posting on a slide) the question above, pause for one minute of silent reflection. A time of silent reflection allows introverts (and extroverts too) time to process before speaking. It will also enable participants to listen more instead of concentrating so much on what they will say when it is their turn to speak.
  • Around the circle, allow each participant no more than one minute to answer the question. Whoever would like may begin.

Hymn – upbeat song or hymn (5 minutes)

  • Singing together reminds us that although we don’t think alike, we worship the Triune God together.

Small-Group Dialogue (20 minutes)

  • Use the same method of small-group dialogue that you used in lesson one. Use the following questions:
    • Where do you believe God is involved in this issue?
    • What Bible stories or passages shape how we might view this?
  1. Break (5-Minute stretch break)

Monologue World Café Style (30 minutes)

  1. Process/Rules
  • In small groups, participants speak one at a time for no more than two minutes.
  • Participants should begin their sentences with either the word “I” or “My.” For example, “My concern is…”; “I feel that…”
  • Participants should express their perspectives on the following question: “What do you believe is the best way forward for this church?” (15 minutes)
  • Following each participant’s monologue, the group sits in silent contemplation for twenty or thirty seconds (using a timer is recommended; this will feel awkward.)
  • Participants should not comment on what other participants are saying (the point is listening; not debating at this time).
  • Participants cannot speak a second time until everyone has spoken once.
  • After fifteen minutes, ask participants (who are able) to randomly change tables. The hope is that participants will now be at tables with different participants. Repeat the monologue process. (If there is time available and enough participants, you might repeat the process a third time.)

Large-group Dialogue (10 minutes)

Use the following questions to guide the dialogue:

  • What do we hope the community hears from this local church? What is our witness to the community during this time?
    • Post or project this question for all participants to see. Offer a minute of silence before allowing responses.
    • One option is for participants to spend two minutes in silent reflection writing down their answers before the session is opened to large-group dialogue.
    • A best practice is for this time to be facilitated by a trained facilitator or moderator. Facilitators keep the group focused on the process and enable participants to hear what is being expressed in the best possible light by all participants.

Communion (10 minutes)

  • Ending with Communion reminds us that during our anxiety and uncertainty, our faith remains firmly in the hands of God who “is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

In Episode 58 of the Small Groups in the Wesleyan Way podcast, Scott Hughes offers encouragement to churches and small groups willing to engage in Courageous Conversatios following the special called General Conference. Click here to listen.

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