Can we talk? Can we listen? The Possibility of Reconciliation

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.

Change is hard. Communication is harder
Youth Ministry SNAFU #2
In The Interest of Transparency
An Update From the Bishop
A Letter to Rachel
A Statement on Change — A Deconstruction

5 thoughts on “Can we talk? Can we listen? The Possibility of Reconciliation

  1. Jay-
    I wanted to thank you for this note. I suspect at least those of us in the blogging world will read or have read this before the gathering this week and you speak words to give us all pause. I know I am both disappointed in how things have happened but also hopeful that some good may rise from the chaos and damage that has happened.

  2. Hello Jay,

    Thanks for your post & prayers for Monday evening. Here is an email that Gavin and I are sending out on behalf of the CCYM. Feel free to forward to anyone your feel appropriate.

    Dear Brothers & Sisters,

    This email is a reminder email for the “Listening Session” with the Bishop & Cabinet scheduled for Monday evening, April 7th at 6:00 pm. The Listening Session will be moderated by Tom Laney & held at Arlington UMC. Everyone is welcome to attend. The current CCYM and Design Team Chairs met this past Tuesday to discuss all that has transpired and a direction for the CCYM for 2008. The status of Fresh & other summer events was discussed along with current plans for Hands & Feet & Warmth in Winter.

    Considerable time was also spent in discernment for what the CCYM hopes to accomplish at the Listening Session on Monday. The time of discernment gave way to a list of goals for the meeting. The CCYM hopes that individuals will have a chance to speak the hurt that has been felt by members of past, current, and future CCYM members, the youth of the TN Conference, children’s ministry leaders, camping ministries, and the other relational ministries. The CCYM also hopes to hear apologies from the Bishop & Loyd as to how this “change” was handled. The CCYM also hopes to hear a commitment that youth will never be left out of conversations of this nature ever again.

    To communicate these feelings effectively, the council encourages anyone and everyone that has been a part of TN Conference connectional ministries to attend this meeting. A large attendance will speak volumes. The members of the CCYM are also hoping to present a stack of stories to the Bishop & Loyd. Please help the CCYM, whether or not you can physically attend, by writing a letter. Please describe what the ministries of the TN conference has meant to you and how these ministries have developed you as a Christian, disciple & leader. These letters/stories can be long or brief… whether we have 20 people at the meeting or 200 at the meeting- we would like to be able to present a large stack of stories that represent real people that have grown in love & faith through the ministries of the TN Conference.

    Thank you for your time! And, we look forward to receiving your letters & stories.

    ***Please forward this email to as many people as you possibly can. You can print and bring letters to the meeting yourself… or feel free to email letters/stories to Erin or Gavin Richardson. They are more than happy to print all of the letters and deliver them on Monday. Act soon! (We have heard that many people have written letters and told their story to Loyd & Bishop Wills already- please send us a copy of that letter also well. We’ll reprint it and deliver along with the rest).


  3. Jay,
    I found your blog through Gavin and have enjoyed my visits.

    I’ve been following what’s happened at the Conference Office as they have been a God send to my ministry. I was unable to attend last nights “Listening Session” (mostly due to a “real job” and being 1 1/2 hours away), did you come away with hope?

    Thanks for your time…

  4. You have used a photograph of mine in this article without attributing the author. That is a breach of the copyright. Please remove the photo or give credit to the photographer.

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