What if this phenomenal congregation I serve could cultivate a reputation for respectful and grace-filled dialogue? What if that could be this congregation’s “niche” in the community? The experts say you need to claim a niche, a unique identity to cultivate. So what would it look like if that could be ours?
It would be a safe zone for asking questions – whatever questions you have. It wouldn’t be an “either/or” congregation, it would be a “have you ever wondered” congregation. I’m talking about an ethos, or an atmosphere, or maybe a culture. It’s an ethos of openness and curiosity, and a suspension of judgment for the sake of mutual inquiry.
So, if the life questions you have are leading you in a different direction than I am going, that’s just fine, let me walk with you for a while and we’ll see where we end up. I would want to hear your questions with the same respect and graciousness that I would want you to hear mine. But the point is that we would be walking together during the journey, no matter what.
There would be intentional opportunities to discuss things over which there is disagreement, and these intentional opportunities would be sacred moments of Christian conversation, or even worship! These moments would be surrounded on all sides with prayer. We would neither avoid talking about the issues we disagree on, nor fight about them, but rather we would discuss them like rational people who love one another.
We may even joke about them from time to time, poking fun at our tendency to label one another this or that or the other. But we wouldn’t bristle or take it personally. Our relationships with one another would not be threatened by our disagreements, but maybe even made richer by them.
Campbell UMC is doing a 3 week class on Evolution/Creation now on Wednesday nights, and it was very well attended yesterday. And as far as I know, nobody threw a chair or rent their garments or anything dramatic like that. So I’m wondering, what if we had things like this four or five times a year – on the separation of church and state, or immigration reform, or marriage, or health care, or war, or the environment, or gun rights, etc. – not as advocacy but just as conversations?
They would be conversations about issues that we know people have questions about, and that we tend to disagree about. The goal of these conversations would not be to convince but just to communicate. Could we do it? It would be radically counter-cultural! But isn’t that what the church is supposed to be, anyway?
So I guess I’m pondering on two levels. First, is creating that kind of ethos possible? Second, is that ethos the kind of thing a congregation can claim as it’s “niche” in the community? What do y’all think?