1000 Conversations is their answer to that desire. It is a Web coordination point (1000conversations.org) through which interested Presbyterians can connect with people in their presbyteries and synods to talk, and to follow-up with reports when conversations have occurred. As of December 18, 130 conversations had been pledged and 68 had been held. “It’s not about debate; it’s about dialogue,” according to the Web site. That dialogue is meant to encompass issues of faith, life, and church and, of course, ordination standards. It is an attempt to “bring respect, integrity, and real relationships to the upcoming vote” suggests the Web site. “It is about fellowship and connection and meeting each other’s hearts, not arguing against each other’s positions,” explains Mowry.
“It is really time to use this voting process as an opportunity for the church to grow into something more whole, more healthy, and more vibrant,” Larges says, in reflecting upon her motivation to foster these conversations. “We sensed a different spirit about this year’s General Assembly,” she added. “It was a spirit that came from new voices, and not just the ‘usual suspects’ surrounding the debate.” This sense of a new spirit and feeling it at work prompted both Larges and Vandersall to create something that would continue to foster that spirit.
“There is a certain amount of suspicion of having conversations,” admits Larges, acknowledging those who express the feeling that they have been “talking about these things” for 30 years and are just tired of it all. “We have been talking at each other for 30 years, not to each other,” suggests Larges. “We have not been listening to each other for the past thirty years and that is the real point.” In many ways, instead of dialogue, it has been an exchange of monologues that can be sincerely and passionately felt, but which fail to engage one another. What has been helpful for her, Larges says, is meeting people at the point of their faith and their relationship with God, talking about Scripture, and establishing a sense of trust. “We want to put trust back in the process,” she explains, noting that this requires those in conversation to let go of all agendas and start with faith and a shared walk with God.
“We have created resources for people,” shares Mowry. “How do you sit down and have a conversation with someone you don’t know or don’t agree with?” he asks, admitting it can be an uncomfortable situation. “Our goal is that people get to talk and listen to each other, regardless of outcome or debate or vote,” Mowry continues. “In the aftermath of that we have 1000 new relationships, making the church that much stronger,” he shares, “and allowing us to live into the wholeness of the church.”
Challenges including distrust, fatigue, and feelings of hurt and rejection on both ‘sides’ of the debate complicate the effort, says Mowry. But in the midst of those challenges, “what we put our trust in and are comforted by is the assurance from Jesus Christ that when two or more have gathered, he is there among us,” he adds. Arguing positions is exhausting, perhaps one aspect of the debate on which all sides can agree. “We don’t know what the outcome of these conversations will be, but I think that we trust that the Holy Spirit moves in ways that often surprise us,” according to Mowry. Our challenge as a church, he suggests, is how to live into the wholeness and unity to which Christ calls us when our earthly boundaries and positions feel like such stumbling blocks between us.
The 1000 Conversation leaders want to change the post-presbytery vote atmosphere as well.
“We want to end this cycle of one side walking away feeling like they lost and the other like they won,” Mowry says. Instead, he hopes that people will leave with a sense that the Spirit of God was at work in the midst of seeking God’s will together, calling on the name of Jesus, and trusting in the power of God to make a difference.
“There are two things that I would love for people to do,” Mowry, says in explaining his expectations for 1000conversations: visit the Web site to learn more, to take advantage of the resources available there, and to consider entering into what he calls “an experiment of fellowship;” and for Presbyterians to use the resources to inform their voting. “As people go into the vote … to ask themselves, ‘Are the words I speak raising rancor or the promise of reconciliation?’” Mowry points out that this does not apply to any particular position or stance, but rather to the tone and an intention to be open to the miraculous possibilities of the Holy Spirit that no one can predict.
“The Spirit is always speaking to us and we can go through this process the way we have done for the past 30 years, or we can go through it afresh,” he explains.
For more information or to get involved, see www.1000conversations.org or find the group on Facebook, 1000 Conversations.
Erin Dunigan is a freelance writer and photographer living in Newport Beach, Calif.