Participants frame discussion at session on clergy excellence

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Participants frame discussion at session on clergy excellence

By Jenna De Marco | Aug. 5, 2009 {1060}

NOTE: A headshot of Chuck Mallue is available at

The lack of a pre-determined agenda is a key strategy for the next Conference Table.

Alice Williams shares with members at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference Event how start-up grants from the conference Leadership Connection have been helping churches and ministries address community needs. File photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #08-0875. Originally accompanied e-Review Florida UMNS #0862, 6/3/08.

Although clergy excellence is the focus of the Sept. 3 session, no specific topics will be decided until the meeting begins, said Alice Williams, a lay member of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando. She and Chuck Mallue, also a lay member at the Orlando church, will facilitate the day’s discussion.

“The thing that’s so important to realize is that people don’t come to this thinking that there is a prescribed answer,” she said. “This is truly an opportunity for us to get together as the body of Christ and have true dialogue — Christian dialogue — about what does it mean to strive for clergy excellence and what does it mean to get there.”

The format of the gathering will be based on a technique called “open space technology.” Rather than being told what topics will be covered, participants will make that determination themselves. The objective is for groups to set their own goals and agendas, creating optimal results, said Mallue, an organizational development professional.

Mallue says one basic theory of open space technology is the use of circular seating arrangements to foster interpersonal communication. In this setting, participants face one another and are free to share ideas for discussion, while the facilitators record the suggestions on a large board.

Chuck Mallue

“It’s really a highly faith-oriented process because it places a lot of trust on the people in the room,” Mallue said.

This unique format will enhance participants’ involvement, says the Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the Florida Conference Center for Clergy Excellence.

“This process allows the group to determine the issues and the responses to the issues,” he said. “Obviously, the process generates a lot of ownership among those who participate.”

The emphasis on clergy excellence is a follow-up conversation to a 2006 Conference Table on the same matter. At that session, guest speaker Dr. Greg Jones, dean of Duke Divinity School, provided “some excellent input,” Dodge said.

Defining what is meant by “clergy excellence” is complex, Williams said, making it an ideal subject for the open space format.

“I think the open space technology really lends itself to any topic that has a lot of different facets,” she said.

The Conference Table, led by Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker, is a forum established in 2002 for interested clergy and lay people to discuss matters of strategic concern for the conference.

“While the Conference Table is open to all who would like to participate, it is hoped that members of the conference Board of Ordained Ministry, members of district committees on ordained ministry, district lay leaders and district superintendents will be present,” Dodge said.

Open space technology addresses the question of who belongs in each gathering. One key principle is that “whoever comes, they are the right people,” Mallue said. Two other basic ideas are that “whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened” and “whenever it starts is the right time,” he added. “Whenever it’s over, it’s over” is a fourth concept.

The corporate world frequently uses these procedures, Williams said, enabling participants to cover a large number of topics in a short time. An added advantage is that the process also ensures that everyone — even in relatively large groups — can be heard, she said.

“It’s the people in the room that are there (who) are the experts,” Williams said. “There’s no right or wrong agenda … because, basically, whatever the group raises is discussed. It’s going to look and feel different than what most of the folks attending have ever done.”

Once the initial topics are generated, participants “self-select” to be part of a particular discussion. Some groups could be large and others small. If at any point an individual wishes to move to another area of interest, they are encouraged to do so, Mallue says. He calls this the “law of freedom and responsibility.”

“If you are involved in a situation where you are no longer learning and contributing then you go somewhere else,” Mallue said. “You never have to feel trapped, and people can be butterflies or bumblebees and move around.”

When the groups are finished meeting, Mallue and Williams will help bring a sense of closure to the day’s activities by opening a large-group discussion.

“The action plan that will be raised will be more around a large-group report about what some of the smaller groups have learned and what we can do with this,” Williams said. “Some of the richness of the sharing is part of what drives that action planning.”

How the day ends will be what God and the attendees needed to do that day, Mallue said.

“I just think it’s going to be a fun and exciting day, and it can be a bit of a novel approach for folks,” Mallue said. “I think they’ll feel very comfortable with it.”

The Conference Table on Clergy Excellence will be held at Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Registration information and directions are available at Information is also available by contacting Winnie Dean in the Florida Conference Center for Clergy Excellence at 800-282-8011, extension 134, or

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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