On Sunday, March 8th, the Methodist House of Studies at MTS partnered with the Turner Center for Church Leadership and St. Luke’s UMC to provide a workshop titled, “Christian Conversation in a Polarized Culture: Human Sexuality and the Future of The United Methodist Church.”

The goal of this workshop was to prepare United Methodist pastors and lay people for difficult conversations around human sexuality in anticipation of the 2020 General Conference.

Dr. Michael Turner, director of the Methodist House of Studies, presented on the history of United Methodist debate over the issue of same-sex marriage and LGBT ordination. He also provided an overview of the some of the plans for separation being discussed at the 2021 General

Conference, including the “Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace Through Separation.”

Rev. Tom Laney of the Turner Center for Church Leadership and Rev. Billy Vaughan of the Methodist House of Studies led group exercises and modeled conversations that engaged in difference without resorting to argument.

“The fact that we have convictions and emotional responses is not a bad thing,” Rev. Vaughan said, “It would be so much worse if we didn’t care. But if our goal is to work through these convictions in Christian community to discern what God is telling us, these feelings have to be tempered through patience, curiosity, and care.”

Over 150 people from 23 local congregations attended the workshop.

Rev. Birgitte French, pastor of St. Paul’s UMC, brought eight members of her congregation to the event. “It was the most informative event I have attended in a long time,” she said. “Many lay and clergy didn’t realize how long the church has struggled with understanding homosexuality and how the Book of Discipline has changed over the course of many years…. What became clear to the people around the table was that, if the Protocol gets voted in, the decision of who we want to be as a local congregation will be in the hands of each congregation. In other words, we have got to start talking about what the future might look like. It suddenly became very real.” 

At the conclusion of the event, Rev. Vaughan, Rev. Laney, and. Dr. Turner invited laity and pastors present to begin envisioning how they might construct discernment exercises for their congregation in the event of a plan for separation being approved at General Conference. 

In describing the next steps for St. Paul’s, Rev. French said,  “Here is how we will use what we learned. First of all, we have invited Dr. Turner to come to our church and give his presentation so that the whole congregation will have an opportunity to hear the same presentation. We will have a training session for our leadership team about communication, safe spaces to share, and listening well. We will create communication questions to be shared through our Wesley groups and Sunday school classes, for listening sessions. We will  bring back what we have learned to the church council and create a presentation for the whole church.”

Rev. Gregory Taylor, pastor of St. Mark’s UMC, said, “The workshop offered a time to develop an understanding of how we can lead the church and be those who are pioneering a movement to care for the church in this time of conflict and create positive, meaningful conversation built upon love, care, respect, mutual understanding, and active listening. We have been poor communicators up to this point, and this workshop helped me to continue the work of amending that in my life and ministry. This workshop was a great opportunity to hone our communication skills and, as pastors, be able to care for the congregations and people who are really struggling and grappling with this issue.”

for more information visit www.methodisthouse.org