How do we connect as human beings? Do you truly see the person in front of you? Do you hear what others are really saying? These are some of the questions nearly 300 presbytery and synod executives and stated clerks are discussing today. The group is meeting in Chicago this weekend for the Mid Council Leaders Gathering, a combination of the Fall Polity Conference and Regional Benefits Consultations.
In opening remarks, Doug Portz, senior church consultant with the Board of Pensions, said there is a new “culture of collegiality” that allows church leaders to speak their minds and consider all angles of issues and concerns.
“This is intended to provide an opportunity for leaders and staff to engage one another in a collaborative environment, to learn about polity and benefit issues, share common concerns, discuss the changing state of the church, and discern our common life together,” he said. “Having this frame and having a culture of why we are here has shaped this schedule.”
The Reverend Dr. Gregory C. Ellison II, and the Reverend Dr. Georgette Ledgister, led the discussion. Ellison, associate professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, is founder of Fearless Dialogues, a grassroots organization that creates opportunities for unlikely partners to engage in hard conversations that see gifts in others, hear value in stories, and work for change and positive transformation in self and others. Ledgister is the organization’s executive director.
“In this laboratory of discovery, some things will blow up, but we will get to a breakthrough,” said Ellison. “We ask you to follow the guidance of your inner teacher. Your inner teacher is here to guide you in this laboratory.”
Seated in circles across the conference center, participants took part in an exercise by utilizing their “hearing eyes,” viewing a particular image and offering their own interpretations of that image, while answering four questions:
- Who do you see?
- Who don’t you hear?
- Where is hope?
- Who cares?
“When issues are sensitive, we want to protect ourselves. Don’t be fearless without fear,” said Ledgister. “We need to covenant with one another, face fears together, and move the conversation forward with a little less fear.”
The group also discussed how people’s interactions with one another can have a long-lasting impact on self-worth. Ellison described his discussions with people who have been ostracized by society and the long-term impact on them as individuals.
“Many have told me they do not feel they are seen as full human beings. I heard hopelessness, terror, anger. They felt invisible and far too many felt it was normal,” he said. “When you don’t feel seen or heard, it impacts how you relate to the people around you as well as your future. It begins to break down your sense of self.”
Ledgister challenged church leaders across the denomination to deal with the whole person in ministry.
“With this experiment, we have begun taking the journey from head to heart and we are becoming practical and personal because we must see one another in this room,” she said. “You are the leadership in church. If we can’t see each other in this room, God have mercy. No one has a corner on pain. We’ve all felt shut down.”
The event is co-sponsored by the Office of the General Assembly and The Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), and is designed for presbytery and synod executives and stated clerks. Saturday’s schedule includes a series of plenaries and workshops.
The Association of Stated Clerks and the Association of Mid Council Leaders are holding their events at the same venue Sunday through Tuesday.