By Jessica Brodie
IRMO—South Carolina United Methodist clergy gathered at Union United Methodist Church Oct. 30 for a time devoted to “The Way Forward: Giving Leadership to Difficult Conversations.”
Clergy were presented with current, unbiased information on the three Way Forward proposals. The gathering aimed to help them learn and experience how to have difficult yet grace-filled conversations concerning human sexuality issues in the UMC, as well as how to share information without changing peoples’ minds or positions.
Clergy also received the tools and experience of participating in a process of constructive conversation that might be used within their own ministry setting.
The Rev. Kathy James, director of Connectional Ministries for the annual conference, led the morning’s conversation, noting she had “worked hard to be neutral and not biased” in presenting the information and tools to clergy gathered.
And she noted the day was about talk, not judgment.
“Today’s not a day for decision—today’s a day for conversations,” James said, lifting up the work of the 32-member Way Forward commission, a group of extremely diverse individuals both in gender, age, race and theological perspective.
At their first meeting, she said, the commission established a covenant to carefully listen to one another, to work not to judge one another, to understand they are not there to change positions, to ask questions, to speak truth in love, to assume trust and not suspicion, to protect confidentiality.
“It is interesting that they made decision not to try to change one another’s minds—that was not their purpose in gathering—and made a commitment to see each other in best possible light,” James said. “If this was good enough for them and their work, I invite you to today to try not to change one another’s mind and try to see each other in the best possible light.”
The resources James presented are offered in full on the conference website at www.umcsc.org/home/ministries/clergy-services/clergy-services-resources.
“It’s important to remember that we are a global church, and General Conference delegates are not only from the U.S.,” James said. “This makes it complicated because for many in those countries it’s shameful to talk about this.”
She said that United Methodists can anticipate that the denomination will not look the same as it does now after General Conference 2019, but what that looks like will only be revealed in time. The change could be large or small.
But what is most important, James said, is that United Methodists focus on the mission of church, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
“We must continue to focus on the mission of the church, be calm and trust that God is present in the midst of uncertainty,” she said.