During the Moderators' Conference on Friday, the Rev. Jihyun Oh, Director of Mid Council Ministries in the Office of the General Assembly, led the workshop “Considering Equity While Moderating and Leading.”
Equity has been a focus of Oh’s long before this summer’s 225th General Assembly, when she collaborated with other OGA staff, members of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and Assembly planners to encourage more voices and disrupt bias during the denomination’s biennial gathering.
Based on the engaged participation and questions from workshop attendees, moderators are eager to build that emphasis into their discipleship and discernment around the country.
About 45 conference attendees joined the workshop, which reprised information Oh had shared during a recent Leader Formation webinar. The presentation was tailored for moderators of mid councils and other leaders tasked with chairing meetings and inviting participants.
After pointing out polity and theological supports for inclusion work — including the Book of Order’s F-1.0404 — Oh spoke about power differentials that appear in the Bible. Despite continued divisions in society, “there is a new way we relate to each other in Christ,” Oh said. Equity discussions are internal to churches but also external to the wider communities surrounding them.
When she asked, “What can get in the way of full participation?”, workshop attendees responded with answers that displayed as a word cloud.
Many of the obstacles identified by participants are attributable to implicit bias, Oh said, which she later defined as a “relatively unconscious or automatic association towards a group, which may be in direct conflict with one’s explicit beliefs and values.”
Implicit bias can prejudice individuals and groups toward maintaining a status quo, “because things have always been done that way,” she added, something that moderators and other group leaders should be keenly aware of as they plan for and conduct meetings.
Oh listed and explained practical steps to help churches be more open to people bringing new ideas, including self-reflection by leaders of the ways bias may be shaping their own words and actions, adopting universal design concepts that provide for the needs of all participants, arranging for non-participants to observe how meetings are proceeding (process observation) and using "Robert’s Rules of Order" to encourage informal discussion.
She also encouraged the use of equity primes: statements or questions printed onto cards or pdfs that meeting attendees can reference during group discussions. Equity primes can be especially impactful when used at discussion “choice points” — moments of special impact that moderators can prepare for prior to meetings, building in extra time for discussion of particular agenda items.
Many of the slides Oh shared, including example equity prime cards, were used by committee moderators during the summer Assembly, including the planning phases for each committee. Workshop attendees who asked about accessing equity primes and the workshop slides were directed in the chat to Equip training modules.
“Equity primes are reminders of how to be good neighbors,” she said. “And how to center the needs of others."
“Any tool can be abused,” Oh acknowledged, adding that process observation (people tasked with monitoring how discussions proceed) can help ensure that efforts to center equity are used effectively. Diversity of nominations to church groups is also a crucial part of overcoming bias, Oh said.
She mentioned minute pauses as a simple way Assembly moderators created room for new voices and helped persons process information — including individuals using interpretation and those adjusting to persons with different speaking styles.
Oh returned to the Book of Order’s F-1.0404 before asking, “What would it look like to seek new openness and participation in your church or presbytery?”
A new word cloud of responses showed participants identifying opportunities for being more open, but also practical challenges to making such changes. Followup participant questions focused on how to center equity in a manageable way:
- How to balance greater equity against time constraints of meetings? (Oh: Review how much time is being spent on reporting and other common time uses at meetings, looking for ways to handle information in asynchronous settings so there is more time available when groups are together.)
- How to make progress across an entire council or church disrupting bias and increasing equity? (Oh: Set interim goals for what kinds of conversations you want to have over the coming months and years, and what resources and time you are willing to devote to getting there. Use Bible study and conversation-starter exercises [such as discussing “your image of God,” to make people aware of the different ways people see each other].)
- How to orientate people who are new to a council to the ways business and discernment is conducted? (Oh: Be intentional in taking time to teach people how to work on an overture, for example, or to participate in standing council processes.)
- How can moderators maintain their focus on equity at meetings given their other duties? (Oh: Enlist others such as a co-moderator or parliamentarian to help you be mindful of equity steps, including asking for breaks and noticing when equity practices aren’t being followed.) (A participant: “Presbytery council members could also be helpful.”)
In closing the workshop Oh pasted links to the Kirwan Institute website where implicit bias assessment work can begin and her own contact information for anyone with followup questions.
“Blessings on your ministries in the coming months and years,” she said.
“Thank you, this has been very helpful!” one attendee said. Another gave a glowing endorsement via chat: “This is the best workshop I’ve been to in years! Thank you, Jihyun.”