Good Listening = Good Conversation

Dear Friends,
I spent this day with a few hundred other Methodist clergy from throughout the MN Annual Conference at the annual all-clergy gathering at the Marriott Hotel in Mpls. The focus of the gathering this year was to contemplate together the recent decision at the Special General Conference in St. Louis to continue (and strengthen) the denomination’s ban on same-sex marriage and ordinations of LGBTQ individuals.
We began the gathering in worship and prayer which led us into a focused time of confession. Selected individuals confessed publicly before the assembly the ways in which their previously held hard-line stance on both sides of the sexuality debate may have harmed others. It was a moving and emotional time for all present.
The elected delegates from MN Annual Conference who were present at the Special General Conference in St. Louis then presented their report of what they observed and experienced.
We then broke for lunch and gathered again an hour later for some honest and passionate question and answer time with Bishop Ough. After another short break Bishop Ough then presented his prepared remarks about the current state of the UMC as he sees it. His remarks were steeped in Ezekiel 37 and the story of the dry bones. Some of the questions he raised within his remarks regarding the text and how it relates to the state of the UMC are: “Can these bones live again?” Ezekiel’s response to that question was simply, “I don’t know. Only you (God) know.” God asked Ezekiel to continue to preach to the dead/dry bones. He did, and they began coming together, bone by bone. “The valley of dry bones is our story,” Bishop Ough added, stating “We too, are yearning for God’s Spirit to breath on dry bones everywhere.” “Preach to the bones,” he challenged us. “Tell them to come together.”
Other highlights that resonated with me throughout the day were:
  • “Good conversation begins with good listening. And good listening depends on healthy relationships.”
  • Guiding Principles on which to base healthy conversations: Show up. Pay attention. Speak truth in love. Let go of outcomes.
  • “What if your fears and dreams exist in the same place – would you still go there?”
  • “We are better together than when apart”
  • Two questions (in regard to the sexuality vote) that we began with included, “What have you heard?” and “What are you feeling about what you have heard?” These simple questions generated lengthy conversation that provided opportunity for clarification and vulnerability.
This coming Sunday, March 17, following our morning worship, First UMC members are invited to participate in a similar conversation. We’ll meet at 11:00 a.m. in the sanctuary. We’ll begin our time with a hymn and prayer and enter into holy conversation about what you have heard and what you might be feeling about what you’ve heard.
We’ll address those feelings and ask what they mean for us as individuals as we faithfully seek to understand our place in a denomination we now may or may not agree with.
This will not be a time to debate what the Special General Conference has already debated regarding same-sex marriage or LGBTQ ordination. It will be a time for healthy listening to one another, that we pray will lead to healthy conversation with one another.
If you’re interested, please join us for this conversation.
As always, the invitation remains open for you to reach out to me for private conversation on the matter, if needed.
And also, as always, I remind you to pray for the UMC. Pray for the whole denomination. Pray for wisdom and patience for brothers and sisters throughout this Church as it looks for a way to move forward, while remaining faithful to its mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ.
Grace and peace,
Pr. Dale