We sat down at the folding table for six, uneasy because of the topic of conversation but trusting in a deep love for one another. The extrovert of the table picked up the notecard sitting in the middle of the table and read the first prompt:
“If you’re willing, tell us a story about a time that this question personally affected you: Is homosexuality compatible with Christianity?”
The silence that followed didn’t help the uneasiness. Finally, Joanna cleared her throat and began. She shared a story of a friend from high school that recently came out as gay. She told us about the kinship that they shared back in the day and that questioning her friend’s sexual orientation was never something that even crossed her mind. The news was such a shock that Joanna didn’t know how to make sense of it so she mostly didn’t. She allowed this news to create a wedge between them and they haven’t spoken since.
As Joanna finished sharing, the silence returned. This silence wasn’t pregnant with awkwardness and unease but with reverence and honor. Joanna had shared honestly and vulnerably. She invited us into the difficulty that she was wrestling with or more accurately, not wrestling with. It was a hard place for her to be and we were able to join her, right there in the tension and the lack of clear answers.
What does it look like to meaningfully engage someone different than you, different than your understanding of the way things are?
This summer, our church journeyed through a series of intentional dialogues. Our “Community Conversations” were crafted to create space for us to have honest and safe dialogue about topics that we just don’t get around to talking about, at least not in a healthy and productive way.
Prior to these conversations, our church’s leadership began to see that the unity that holds us together is real and significant. The relational binds that connect us are strong. But we also knew that there was a great amount of diversity in our midst, often hiding just under the surface. Sometimes it would bubble up and we wouldn’t know what to do about it, so we would pretend that it wasn’t there and go back to leaning on our strong unity.
While this isn’t necessarily an unhealthy place for a community to be, we knew that the potential for more was there. We knew that exploring our diversity in a safe and healthy manner would only enrich the unity that we share.
So we sat down together and began a conversation, figuratively and literally.
The aim of these Community Conversations was to engage and explore various topics as a community. We tried to create a safe environment to allow for authentic and vulnerable dialogue. Through covenanting together, we created some ground rules for how we were to be to one another.
The aim was not to intentionally create divisiveness. The aim was to draw out our diversity, wrestle through it together, gain a better understanding of our personal beliefs and the beliefs of others, and find ourselves on the other side with a greater understanding of what it means to be unified.
As a church, we hope to nurture a culture of openness, acceptance, diversity, and formation. Tangible expressions of this kind of hope are important and that’s what our Community Conversations were. By creating a safe space for us to give voice to our beliefs or lack thereof, we engaged one another in a caring and benevolent way.
Once it was all said and done, we hadn’t found many answers. If anything, we created more questions. But in the midst of it, we journeyed through some significant moments together. For that, we are stronger, we are more unified, and we are better equipped to continue journeying together, forming together.