This coming Monday, a group of persons will be gathering at the Arlington United Methodist Church in a first attempt to address the concerns raised in the recent actions of the TN Conference Council on Connectional Ministries to discontinue the staff positions for youth and children’s ministries (see the bottom of this article for a list of previous articles on this) . This gathering has been called by Bishop Wills in conversation with several of us in the desire to restore relationship and entertain the possibility of reconciliation between those who made the decision and those who believe that the process for making the decision (as well as the decision itself) was unjust. This conversation will be moderated by the Rev. Tom Laney, formerly the Senior Pastor at West End UMC, and an expert on group dynamics.
I have been thinking about this gathering a lot. On the one hand, it is a dangerous move, for the possibility of frustration, hurt feelings, and dissatisfaction with the outcome is always lurking in the background. For those who feel alienated and are grieving, it will be hard if not impossible to temper the depth of their emotions. For those who made the decisions regarding the staff, and the process for coming to those decisions, it will be difficult to not immediately fall into defensiveness. And yet, I am convinced that without this starting conversation, the chance for reconciliation is not possible. People need to feel heard. The facts need to be completely shared. We have to come to the table and talk for in that talking is the revelation of God.
As we prepare for this time together on Monday, I think that we might want to keep the following things in mind:
First, and most importantly, we all are broken and sinful people in need of God’s grace. The CCOCM leadership is composed of frail human beings that were trying to do what they thought best for their church. While we need to hold each other accountable in love, we can never forget that part of our calling is to the ministry of love, grace, and forgiveness.
There needs to be a recognition that asking questions about the future directions of ministries with children and/or youth is not inappropriate. My fear is that good questions were being asked that will be undermined by a flawed decision making process, and that we will miss an opportunity to discern something new among us. The “decision makers” started the process with good intentions based in the desire to ensure that our ministry with youth and kids was enhanced. However, as we know now, they jumped the gun and made decisions without gaining the support of the “stakeholders” in those ministries, leading to a premature decision.
The conversation must focus primarily on process rather than personality. Yes, there are real people attached to the process that was used, and we grieve the pain that they have experienced, but the ultimate question before us is a flawed process of decision making that led to alienation and anger. Likewise, while we may like or dislike the persons who made the decisions in this situation, our frustration is not with them personally but with a process that seems to be incomplete.
This meeting will probably not lead to major change at the end of the gathering. It is the first step in what will be a long process of regaining trust in the midst of evaluating the future of how our annual conferences resources ministries with children and youth.
This process can only succeed if all parties come to the table with a commitment to actively listen to the other, understanding that this gathering is a means of grace by which God is revealed. We must all look for signs of Christ among us, even (and maybe especially) in the midst of pain, hurt, and sorrow.
Monday night will likely be a difficult night for many.
But the road to the cross is never easy.