Conversations in the Church

We have been engaged in a series of conversation among Madison Episcopalians. Organized around the big issues facing us as a church and focused on upcoming General Convention, we have gathered each Tuesday night in May to talk about matters like the Anglican Communion and Covenant, proposed liturgies for the blessings of same-gender unions, and questions around the structure, budget, and mission of the Episcopal Church.

Tonight we met again and were joined by Bishop Miller and members of our diocesan deputation to GC 2012. We talked about many things, but perhaps most importantly, we talked about conversation itself.

We live in a bitterly polarized society. Wisconsin may be ground zero for that polarization with the recall election for Governor Walker only two weeks away. Mention was made of Parker Palmer, his most recent book, and his efforts to foster conversation across the political divide.

Christianity is equally divided. There is the great divide over LGBT inclusion, which we are struggling over in the Episcopal Church as in other denominations. At the same time, in the larger culture, Christianity is fully identified with the forces of hate and intolerance, with video clips of Baptist pastors advocating that LGBT people be placed in concentration camps. Our internal struggles over full inclusion, and the nuances of our internal debates get drowned out.

We make halting steps toward having open conversations, toward allowing people the space, the freedom, to voice their opinions and their experience, without fear of retribution or punishment. Tonight we talked about our diocese’s history that made such open conversations difficult in past years, but might also mean that we are in a place now where we can speak freely, listen to another, and listen for the Holy Spirit’s leading.

Creating the space for such conversations requires a great deal of intentionality and groundwork. Often we don’t have any idea what they might look like, for our culture models only shouting and partisan soundbites. But such models do exist.

They exist even in the contested Anglican Communion. Recently, members of the Chicago Consultation, an organization dedicated to the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the church, organized a consultation of some 25 African Anglicans with a dozen Episcopalians. A brief report on that meeting is here. Much more powerful is the brief video made of the meeting. It shows some of the conversation, the honesty and openness with which people participated. It also showed that relationships can be forged and nurtured through such conversations, even when disagreements are deep.

Here’s the video:

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