By Kim Jenne
Over the course of three weeks in late autumn, nearly 85 members of Church of the Shepherd engaged in a structured, conversational experience called Point of View (POV) designed to foster conversation and facilitate understanding about different perspectives regarding human sexuality.
POV was created by a diverse team of clergy and laity from the Florida Conference. The conversation template was designed to equip participants to grow in empathy, have a broader understanding of different points of view and to create productive dialogue around challenging conversations. It was beta-tested in early 2018 and launched more broadly in Florida over the late spring and summer. Three members of the Missouri Conference visited a Tampa-based church in June to observe the experience. Rev. Jon Spalding was one of the observers and decided it was a valuable tool to try out with his congregation back in St. Charles.
“Finding a way to have safe, Christ-like conversation in an increasingly polarized world is challenging,” Jon Spalding said. “Like many congregations in Missouri we have congregants who have differing viewpoints about many issues, human sexuality being one of them. The leadership team at COS wanted to find a way that we could help our congregation have conversations that left us more ‘whole’ at the end of the conversation rather than wounded, knowing we would not all agree but wanting to stay in love with each other. We believed the POV process would provide a foundation for beginning the conversation and a process for any issue where there was division.”
The POV experience allows for a one-day or three-session experience and includes a participant field guide, slides, videos, facilitator training materials and promotional materials. The conversation module is heavily dependent on lay leadership. At Church of the Shepherd, Spalding recruited lay leaders as session facilitators and table leaders but spent most of the three sessions behind the scenes. Lay leaders Janet Moran and Brett Abernathy facilitated each session from the front of the room, and 16 table leaders helped keep conversations productive around the participant tables.
“I have been surprised about how many people have participated in the POV experience,” said Moran, chairperson of Church of the Shepherd’s executive council. “The people attending are actively interacting, even though the content and discussions can be challenging. I sense that our members really want to find a way to deal with their feelings about this complicated issue confronting the church. It seems to have opened the door for further dialogue. Perhaps now it is not as scary for our people to discuss these issues.”
POV, as a conversation template, is designed to engage a variety of hard conversation topics. Because human sexuality is a pressing concern for the denomination, the Florida Conference chose to pursue that particular topic in its initial pursuit. Church of the Shepherd’s leaders could see the possibility of using the conversation model for a variety of topics affecting their community: race relations, gun violence and immigration, to name a few.