The Open and Affirming Discernment team has been guiding our congregation’s practice of discernment one step at a time. In general, that has meant that the next step was based upon what we learned/discerned from the previous steps. So, while we knew where we were going, we did not necessarily know the route. The team’s first step was to prepare to be guides in the practice of discernment and conversations about open and affirming.
We then set out to assess the temperament of the congregation through the Faith Community Assessment survey, which was mailed to everyone on the church mailing list. The results of this survey are available on the church website. On a scale from 25-125, our congregation scored about 85, with a recommended “St Moderatus pace”. The survey results highlighted that as a congregation, we profess that the message of scripture is “God is love”. The results emphasized the importance of personal relationships among the church family. That our church should provide a safe place to be ourselves before God, a place of refuge from the trials of life, and a place of celebration for the triumphs of life. And in all, a place to give glory to God and His creations.
Our next step was to personally invite each member of the congregation into the practice of discernment and to listen to their hopes, concerns, and feelings about open and affirming. Due to the Covid restrictions, nearly all these conversations were conducted over the phone. These calls spanned a few months with over a dozen contacts every couple of weeks. Overall, the conversations were informative and enjoyable. We want to thank everyone that shared with us. We also tried to provide information to the congregation through the weekly bulletins and monthly newsletters. We developed a church webpage with links to additional resources, many suggested to us during the conversations.
During the 1-on-1 conversations, we met many people with compelling personal stories, not hypothetical or theoretical scenarios. We asked these people to share their experiences with the whole congregation as our next step. Some of these people feel comfortable to share their stories with us and some do not feel safe enough. We will be hearing just a few of these testimonials in June.
Although the team has been working one step at a time, based on questions and suggestions from the congregation, it is apparent that we need to communicate our plans and the current tentative next steps.
The general schedule is:
June - Testimonials during Sunday service & work on 1:1 Conversation Summary letter (publish in July)
July - craft Open and Affirming Statement, including review/approval from Church Board
August - publish proposed statement and perhaps have “town hall” discussions
September - vote on Open and Affirming Statement at congregational meeting
Discernment is a prayerful decision based on the desire to follow Jesus in our daily life and live in a way that recognizes all people are children of God. We want to encourage and thank everyone in the congregation for their participation in this practice of discernment for our church.