A total of 45 listening posts were held throughout the conference as follows:
- East District – 11
- Hawaii – 5
- North District – 12
- South District – 14
- West District – 8
Feedback reports received – (including individual submissions) – 45
Average attendance – 24
The listening posts were designed to first build a sense of community and shared identity. As multiple churches were included in each one, not everyone knew each other and it was important to establish this commonality before progressing, particularly when different theological viewpoints were represented. There were then a series of guided questions designed to walk through the process of naming and identifying problems before coming up with visions for a new way forward and ways in which those visions could be achieved. The attendees were split into small groups for many of the discussions and invited to share a summary with the larger group as they were comfortable. (A copy of the listening post handout is attached.)
Each post had a facilitator and a recorder who summarized the conversation directly onto a form which matched the format of the questions being discussed. These forms were then collated and mined and used to form the body of this report.
While there was a good response to the listening posts, there were several obstacles which made the process more challenging and reduced the possible engagement and attendance, particularly laity. There were a few churches which did not respond to or declined the request to host. Similarly, there was a number of clergy who did not respond to or declined the request to facilitate. Where clergy did not share the information with their membership about the listening posts then the information was not received by those who were targeted. A better system for contacting the laity directly needs to be implemented in order to overcome this for future events.
A number of lessons were learned regarding staging, facilitation, and communication which will be addressed before the next round is launched.
A few complaints were received as to the structure and perceived bias of the listening posts. These complaints came from those who had a different theological viewpoint to the majority of the people who were in attendance and came from both dominant stances.
1. Share Stories
The overwhelming response to this section were the commonality in experiences of being part of a UMC church. Common responses were things such as a sense of community, social justice work, camp experiences, connectedness, the power of God working in and through all, lifelong Methodists, God with us, home. The common themes picked up on were community, common ground, connections, relationships, and a common heart for the denomination.
2. Reflect on the larger UMC narrative
Prevailing themes include that the UMC is seen as being progressive and for doing important social justice work. UMCOR was mentioned over and over as being a valuable and important representation of the power of a unified global church in doing relief work throughout the world. The UMC is viewed as broken and conflicted. This brokenness is affecting the local churches and impacting them more and more as time goes on. There is frustration at decisions being made by those who have no concept of the local church location and community needs. We comprise of and serve a diverse community and yet that isn’t reflected in what the world sees. Our structure is outdated and makes it difficult to respond to the needs of our communities and the world.
There is concern about what happens to the churches once all the legislation takes effect – who will be included, who will be left out, and how will they survive? The UMC has lost its way and is not listening to the different cultural contexts.
The global narrative is very different to that of the local churches. Our churches are being harmed by the decisions of the global church. The people who need to be part of these discussions are not here, we need to figure out a way to get them here. Local churches are more concerned with their mission and service than this issue. The global structure does not support or serve the local levels. Local churches in Cal-Pac are diverse and yet find ways to work in unity for mission and ministry which the global church is not achieving. Local churches are not all aware of the decisions and arguments of the global church.
3. Name problems and big problematics
Majority agreed with those items already on the triangle. Additions to this were:
- Assets need to be added to the power struggle item
- Distortion of information
- Bad media reporting
- Cultural competency
- All the -isms
- Not following the decisions of the governing body
- Lack of relationships and conversations
- Pyramid structure of the organization
4. Imagine a new church
Common responses from this discussion:
- Inclusive and open to different theologies and beliefs
- More laity involvement
- Mission and service orientated
- Less bureaucracy, flatter structure
- Local church focused
- Reduced and changed Book of Discipline
- Different alignments of the same church
- Resolution on “what is sin?”
- A church which knows and lives out what love is
- A church which can have difficult conversations and come to loving compromises while continuing to work on its mission and ministry to all
- Contextual basis
- Regional Book of Discipline
- Better communication
- Youth programs and empowerment for young people
- Variety of worship experiences
5. Propose directions and actions to move to a new narrative
Common responses from this discussion:
- Find a better way to share information with everyone
- Polity change to allow Jurisdictions to define their own Book of Discipline
- Focus more on mission and ministry
- Be in conversation and develop relationships with other churches and with those who think differently to us
- Shared worship
- More conversations and opportunities like this
6. What might the local church do to open doors to changes
- More conversations and opportunities like this to come together
- Shared experiences
- Have conversations on Homosexuality and the Bible and meet with LGBTQ people and ask them to share their faith story and experiences
- Conference should provide materials and resources on how to have these difficult conversations
- Engage more in our local context and community
- Mission Area and District collaboration
- Different worship experiences and opportunities
- Cultural competency training
- Clergy training so they are equipped to navigate these conversations and issues and are prepared to do so
- More ministry throughout the week
- Resource the local churches with the tools they need to do their work
- The listening posts were well received by the people who attended them. A better method for engaging all the laity is needed for the next round of these opportunities.
- It is very clear that the local churches do not feel they are adequately equipped and require more training (particularly on Homosexuality and the Bible), and opportunities for conversations. Local church ministry is being negatively affected by global church decisions and laity do not feel they are adequately informed to address the issues being raised to them in their local communities by the media reports regarding the decisions made at General Conference.
- In addition, training and resources need to be made available on “Having Difficult Conversations.”
- There is a clear minority who do not want to see any changes to the current legislation and are frustrated with the conference position. Conversations and relationships with these minority groups are a vital component to moving forward as a conference.
- Local churches want to focus on mission and ministry to all and require an organizational structure which better equips them for this and whose global positions do not affect them directly. They also want to be more engaged with other churches in their area. Mission and district area events to address this would assist in addition to a resource person at annual conference level who could help them with inclusion and cultural competency.
Submitted by Rev. Denyse Barnes, Cal-Pac LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Coordinator