How many times have you heard those words?  Was it a pleasant experience – as in spoken by your significant other … or, possibly a negative experience – coming from your supervisor?  We have these preconceived ideas about how conversations are going to go, based on the words that are used, who’s doing the talking, and our own “jumping to conclusions.”

I recently spent a few days in Atlanta, representing the laity of the Virginia Conference, at a workshop titled, “Facilitating Mutuality – Dialogue Across Differences.”  Just about every U.S. conference and even a few from outside the U.S. were represented, but the conversation was not focused only on ‘human sexuality’ and the upcoming General Conference (GC2020).  The workshop was sponsored by Global Ministries, the Candler School of Theology, and the Commission on Religion and Race.  We experienced vibrant worship, shared in meaningful sermons, and participated in hands-on learning groups.  Did you know that United Methodists are concerned about and talking about issues other than GC2020?  Our UMC congregations are discussing church growth, community involvement, race relations, church/district/conference mergers, pastoral changes, making church relevant, programming for all ages, etc. etc.

What’s common here is that we are in conversation … holy conferencing (remember, it’s a spiritual discipline according to Wesley) … and we need to respect everyone’s voice at the table.  Sure, I learned about ‘Facilitator Tools for a Mission Roundtable,’ ‘Difficult Participants and Group Dynamics,’ and ‘Facilitating Non-Dominant Spaces When Dominant Voices are Present;’ but it all comes down to OK … let’s talk!!  I share the following Respectful Communication Guidelines (from “The Bush Was Blazing but Not Consumed” by Eric H. F. Law)

R = take Responsibility for what you say and feel without blaming others

E = use Empathetic listening

S = be Sensitive to differences in communication styles

P = Ponder what you hear and feel before you speak

E = Examine your own assumptions and perceptions

C = keep Confidentiality

T = Trust ambiguity because we are not here to debate who is right or wrong         


John Meeuwissen, Lay Leader