This article, written by Amory Peck, originally appeared in Channels Newsletter.
My intent was to write a review of a recent church-related trip. It was two-and-a-half days of meetings, made up of long hours of listening carefully, and reviewing complex ideas. It was demanding, but important work. However, you’re going to think I’m just trying to make you envious, because the gathering was in Tampa, Florida.
Seattle’s winter storm began on Sunday, January 15. By Wednesday, when I was scheduled to fly, we had a goodly amount of slippery, sloppy snow (by Western Washington standards). We waited on the plane for three hours for our plane’s turn to be de-iced. Luck was with me – we took off just a bit before SeaTac closed for the day.
Hours later I was in Tampa, where the temperature in the evening was still in the high 60’s. Each day of the gathering was sunny with a light breeze and temperatures in the low 70’s. By my Western Washington, mid-winter standards, it was a delight. The Tampa Convention Center is located directly on the Hillsborough River, and I grabbed every minute of possible outdoor time I could. (One day we had sack lunches. I think I set some sort of speed record for grabbing a bag and making it to a riverside bench for my meal.)
Three of us from the PNW were in Tampa for the United Methodist Communications-sponsored “Pre-General Conference News Briefing”. The Rev. Craig Parrish and I were there representing our General Conference Delegation and the Rev. David Valera was there as our conference communicator.
We were there to learn more about the issues that will be coming before General Conference next April. We heard presentations on plans for a major restructuring of our General Church agencies and an overview of a ministry study. We learned that we’ll be considering 1,020 pieces of legislation at GC! (If you’d like to read all – or some – of that legislation, you can find it online HERE.)
Probably one of the most important experiences we had at the briefing was the practice of “Holy Conversation”. Earlier one of the speakers had mentioned that too many people use the word “dread” when they describe how they approach General Conference. In an attempt to counter that discomfort and distrust, the commission planning General Conference has included three times on the agenda when we’ll talk together in small groups. The first time will center on “identity and theology,” the second on human sexuality, and the third on the worldwide nature of the church.
We received guidelines for the process at our practice session. When talking together on difficult issues, we’ll be encouraged to remember:
- Every person is a child of God. Always speak respectfully.
- As you patiently listen and observe the behavior of others, be open to the possibility that God can change the views of any or all parties in the discussion.
- Listen patiently before formulating responses.
- Strive to understand the experience out of which others have arrived at their views.
- Be careful in how you express personal offense at difference opinions.
- Accurately reflect the views of others when speaking.
- Avoid using inflammatory words, derogatory names, or an excited and angry voice.
- Avoid making generalizations about individuals and groups.
- Remember that people are defined, ultimately, by their relationship with God – not by the flaws we discover, or think we discover, in their views and actions.
I’m hopeful that these guidelines from the DCA Advance Edition will help shape our conversations at General Conference. I’m glad that two from each Annual Conference had a chance to practice these skills – in the winter sunshine of Tampa.