Saturday Morning Live:  Modeling Godly Disagreement Through Holy Conversation

Date Posted: 3/9/2017

As Bishop Scott Jones provided background, Rev. Nathan Bledsoe and Rev. Jim Leggett navigated through tough issues while modeling love, respect and grace in a first-of-its-kind live stream conference event.
“Covering a huge topic in a short amount of time – on a live stream—can be nerve wracking at times,” admits TAC social media coordinator Sydnie Mares, “however, Bishop Jones was as peaceful and as confident as ever for the conference’s first live streaming event of this magnitude on February 25.” The Bishop provided the background and laid the ground rules. What followed was a candid conversation between two pastors, with dozens of churches tuned in, along with individuals listening or watching from across the conference. Central North Administrative Assistant Doris Folser says, “I was very impressed with the respect shown by each minister even when they disagreed. Thank you for sharing this.”
Mary Beth Bridges, a member of First UMC Huntsville and mother of an ordained Elder in the New Mexico conference adds, “Having Holy Conversations about the sensitive issue of ordaining members of the LGBTQ community in the UMC is an excellent beginning. Each pastor in the video stream supported his position using the scriptures. Each group of people viewing the video stream agreed with the pastor who reflected their position. I'm not sure that either side is willing to change their perspective. This being said, the follow up discussion was thoughtful and respectful.”
St. Peter’s UMC, Katy was one of the larger “gatherings” to collectively watch and interact in a discussion following the streaming conversation. Rev. Pat Sparks was facilitating this meeting with more than 60 participants. District Superintendent Jay Jackson believes the first holy conversation set the stage for additional conversations to be mutually respectful. Notes Jay, “I was impressed with the faithfulness and compassionate tone of the conversations that I witnessed at St. Peter's. The tone was set by the conversation streamed between Rev. Leggett and Rev. Bledsoe. Their example offered a basis for appropriately holy conversation among the participants at St. Peter's.”
A group also convened at St. John’s UMC, Richmond. Rev. Jennifer Veres-Schrecengost, Pastor of Outreach and Discipleship shares that, “In addition to the great example of tone and relationality that we all observed between the clergy, our takeaway was a commitment to facilitating holy conversations in our congregation.

The lay people that attended are interested in gathering more small groups in the congregation to watch the recording and use the discussion guide to help St. John’s engage in conversation about challenging topics without sacrificing relationship. We all thought that, despite our differing viewpoints, this would be a great way to overcome the divisiveness and/or avoidance that typically prevents these important conversations from taking place.”

Technology as a Tool
“Going into the event,” adds Sydnie, “we had over 100 responses to our Facebook event, and we knew of many churches who were hosting a watch. As far as social media, it was energizing to see how many people were excited for the stream in the weeks before. Social media and live streaming technologies virtually erase the distance barrier. Perhaps it is a tool churches can use in unique ways with their respective audiences.”
The conference used #TXACHolyConvo to live tweet the event. Adds Sydnie, “People who we know are on both sides of the issue of human sexuality gave us positive feedback and felt that there was respect and love in the conversation, which was our goal from the beginning.” She observes that this topic and technology “affected our voice as a social media team. As United Methodists, we are involved in many facets of social justice, and some of them can be controversial. Seeing holy conversations modeled for us has helped us to ensure safe and loving spaces across our social media platforms.”
To date, over 1,000 have viewed the event either live or via the archived video.
Social media responses have included comments such as:

Positive Feedback
UMC consultant Starlett Bell thanked the bishop in an email, stating:
“I was able to watch Holy Conversations/Tough Issues on Saturday from my home with peaceful emotions and no technical problems emerging. This live streaming event was extremely thought out from pre-planning to orchestration. You did a fabulous job of laying out the purpose and mission for the event, as well as bringing clarity to the process.  Both pastors from Katy did an excellent job of taking their stance on human sexuality with love, peace, and a large amount of study and reflection. The event certainly helped model the standards we should have as we live through the next few years.”
Lindsey Heathcock, who attended the discussion group at Westbury UMC, shares this perspective, “The Holy Conversation event was a wonderful way to model appropriate discussions on this important and often painful topic. I especially appreciated one voice in our church group, who reminded us to think of the voices who have been excluded from the conversation by the nature of our current policies. I pray we will seek out and pay attention to the voices of LGBTQ Methodists, family members, and neighbors as we continue our discussions in love.”
A pastor from the West District was out of town and tapped into the live stream from afar. “It was nice to see that the two clergy were first trying to develop a relationship with each other, which is is good,” the pastor shares. “You can't hate someone you like to go to lunch with!  And second, the Bishop gets points for addressing the issue head on. Candidly, I think both sides are so entrenched that they didn't "sway" each other but that is OK because unity of the denomination means forging a common ground through cooperation and collaboration that will have to come no matter what side you are on.”  
Barbara Scott, a longtime Methodist and great grandmother, attended the event with a little uneasiness as a new member at FUMC Huntsville.  However, she shares, “I was delighted by what I learned.” Adds Barbara, “I was impressed that the Reverends had taken the time to get to know each other personally before sharing their views on homosexuality.  (How can I truly understand what a person is saying if I don’t understand the person first, and vice versa.) Our group discussion revealed how varied our opinions/beliefs are just within the walls of our own church building.  I had the distinct impression that most of the members in attendance had training in resolution conflict as our facilitator only had to remind us once to remember, this is Holy Conversation.” Barbara knows that oftentimes the attendees who might benefit most don’t attend, but she felt the event was highly beneficial to those that did. “This type of thing opens the door for conversations we should be having as member of the Methodist church, preparing for what the future is bringing.”
The Conversation Continues: Q&A with the Bishop on March 16 
Bishop Scott Jones will host a Facebook Live follow up conversation at 7 pm on our Facebook Page. While a Facebook account is not needed to watch the stream, having an account allows you to comment on the video in real time and interact with the Bishop. For updates and notifications, RSVP to our Facebook event. All are encouraged to send questions ahead or interact live to continue in holy conversation.