Table Talks With Bishop Scott Jones
By: Sherri Gragg
Some 2,581 clergy and laity gathered last month across the Texas Annual Conference for Table Talks with Bishop Jones, Conversations on The Way Forward. The Table Talks were held in each of the nine districts, one for laity, and one for clergy, with the goal of helping the participants better understand the three plans to be presented as options for The Way Forward at the Special Session of the General Conference in February 2019.
Each of the 18 Table Talks followed the same format. The Bishop spoke for a little over 30 minutes in which he explained the three options: The One Church Plan, The Connectional Conference Plan, and The Traditional Plan. Afterward, attendees participated in table discussions under the guidance of a trained table leader. At the end of the 30-minute discussion period, each table presented one of their top questions to the Bishop with the goal of clearing up any confusion surrounding the complex nature of the options before the General Conference.
To ensure that the Table Talk Leaders understood the three plans and would facilitate fairly, Jones asked all of the Table Leaders to go through training and read the full report from the commission on the Way Forward and the executive summaries on the web site found here https://www.txcumc.org/thewayforward. “This was a big commitment on the part of each of our facilitators from across the Texas Annual Conference,” the Bishop said. “But the time and effort our Table Leaders invested in the training and reading of the Way Forward report and executive summaries was well worth it.”
Lay participants like Sonya Cline, Greggton United Methodist Church, Longview, and Lamon Geddie, First United Methodist Church, Gilmer agreed that their Table Talk leaders were prepared and did not have bias one way or the other about any of the three of the plans that delegates would be voting on at the special session of General Conference.
“We were all there to learn. No one was trying to change people’s minds,” Geddie said. She was happy to attend Table Talks with Bishop Jones and said that it was very factual and informative.
Cline added that she expected there to be one person at her table to have an adverse reaction to the talks, but everyone was looking at the big picture for the Church. “I believe in our method,” Cline said. In her own words, Cline echoed what Bishop Jones has been saying for a long time. “We don’t know what is going to happen. So, we just need to keep (on) doing ministry,” she said.
The Bishop strove to establish a welcoming and respectful environment for all. Over the course of the Table Talks, and continuing as we progress toward General Conference, the Bishop urges clergy and laity to embrace the Catholic spirit. He encouraged Table Talk participants to remember that the purpose of the gatherings was not to change another person’s mind, and to approach the issue at hand with the humility that “whatever we think, we might be wrong.”
“I tried to bring people back to mutual respect,” the Bishop said. “I ended each session with the reminder that we love and respect each other.”