Below is an excerpt from an email I received following one of our Circles:
I just wanted to send you a quick note and tell you that I attended a Circle of Abundant Grace. Not knowing quite what to expect I wanted to share with you that the entire evening was one filled with Christian love, respect, and sacredness. Much of that was due to your very capable facilitators. The road ahead for the UMC I know is not easy, but hopefully with discussions like this we can remain united even if we are not of the same opinion.
I will continue to pray as we move forward with this process. Grace and peace to you.
Despite wintry weather, 50 Circles of Abundant Grace were held across the NC Conference in January 2017. Close to 700 people- men and women, clergy and laity, covenanted to speak and listen charitably to one another in sacred circles of Christian conversation. Conflict Transformation Ministers, including clergy and laity, travelled the highways and by-ways of eastern North Carolina to facilitate conversations about human sexuality and the future of the United Methodist Church.
Even though the issues may be contentious, the Circles were not. From Robbins to Roanoke Rapids to Rockingham to Rocky Mount and beyond, those of widely differing perspectives sat together and shared their hearts with one another. Across the board, facilitators reported atmospheres of love, respect, and honesty in the Circles.
Truly, my friends, that was our goal. It was (and is) enough to have participants and facilitators speak the truth in love and listen for the truth in love. John Wesley named these kinds of experiences “holy conferencing.” We Methodists believe that holy conferencing is a means of grace on par with worship, prayer, fasting, the study of Scriptures, and receiving the sacraments.
In the Circles, grace was received. Grace was shared. Abundantly.
Many participants wondered about the “What next?”. I have received summary reports on the Circles from the facilitators and the awesome CTM intern, Aaron, is creating a master document to provide to our Resident Bishop, Hope Morgan Ward. Be assured that the summaries comment only on the overall tone and major themes of the conversations. No names are attached at any place to any comments.
Here’s how we spelled it out in the Covenant for the Circles of Abundant Grace.
Expectations about confidentiality: what is said in the room is not to be shared by participants outside of the room once the Circle is concluded. Facilitators will provide a written summary to the Office of the Resident Bishop that will note when and where the conversation happened, how many attended, and what the general tone of the conversation was. No specific comments will be reported and no names will be attached. If any next steps emerge from the participants, those will be noted. Facilitators are also free to provide their own reflections in the written summary. The Resident Bishop may chose to share the written summary with the district superintendent.
The Circles of Abundant Grace, therefore, provide invaluable, contextual information for the Bishop and for the leadership of the North Carolina Conference. The Circles are complementary to the work of the larger denomination. As the denomination’s Commission on A Way Forward begins its work, the clergy and laity of the NC Conference are also learning and listening. Both the NC Conference and the Commission on a Way Forward are engaging in respectful, relational ways the issues of human sexuality and the future of the United Methodist Church.
We hope that Circle participants will be inspired to host like circles of conversation in their home churches. Circle conversations don’t have to be only about issues of human sexuality and the future of the United Methodist Church. There are many, many topics at hand. We who are Christian have the ongoing opportunity to embody the words of the song that were sung at the end of one Circle, “They Will Know We Are Christians By Our Love.”
Whatever the topic, we have gifted Conflict Transformation Ministers in this annual conference who can facilitate holy conversation at your local church. One Minister reported,
I was profoundly moved by this group and the process that they chose to embrace. Grace was the overarching environment where this conversation was shared.
To God be the glory,
Director, Conflict Transformation Ministries
Photo by Sarah Farmer