The 15th Conference Table was held Sept. 23 at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, with 150 people in attendance and 515 joining in by webcast.
The topic was how to participate in Christian Conferencing, with a focus on the subject of homosexuality and the church. The purpose of the meeting was to pilot a process that would inform participants and support qualitative dialogue on this very controversial subject. The process began with the full group discussing the common ground that we share. We then moved into a time where the stage was set for small group and then further large group discussion. This time was designed to establish a common body of information for everyone. It included four components: a Bible study that came from a sermon by the Rev. Adam Hamilton, pastor at Church of the Resurrection; a short history on our conference’s and the church’s involvement in controversial issues; a presentation on the Judicial Council rulings and the Council of Bishops’ pastoral letter; and a video that presented the faces and comments of people from our congregations in Florida who are deeply affected by this issue.
The small group format was designed to encourage people to look at issues from not only their own perspective, but from that of the position different from their own. The large group discussion was intended to assist the group with discovering greater areas of common ground beyond that with which the process began and to also discuss what our next steps would be.
The attendees represented the full range of viewpoints on the issue of homosexuality. Most evaluations agreed this was a good first step. Refinements need to include further development of the video to be more inclusive of the variety of experiences of people in the church. In addition, some changes in the small and large group processes are necessary to encourage the dialogue for which they were intended. The small group time was overly structured and sometimes confusing, in addition to being too short to really allow people to share spontaneously. There was not enough time for the large group dialogue to be completed.
The planning team is receiving the evaluations and preparing for the further development of conversations in the conference, perhaps in both districts and local churches. Comments, ideas and input are welcome. Please contact Anne Burkholder, director of Connectional Ministries, at email@example.com.
The webcast was recorded and will be available on DVD. The DVD is free but you will need to submit your request on our order form.