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Letter from Circles of Grace Taskforce on Human Sexuality

Members of West Ohio Conference,

At the end of September the West Ohio Conference sponsored Circles of Grace Conversations in four locations throughout the conference. These conversations centered around human sexuality and unity in The United Methodist Church. Thank you to the over 900 laity and clergy who participated in one or more of the four evenings of conversations. We know those who attended came with various viewpoints and theological understandings around human sexuality and concern about whether unity is possible. We also had a fantastic team of facilitators who took on the very important task of managing the conversation around the tables. For those of you who were facilitators, I want to give you a word of gratitude for the work you did. 

When the Circles of Grace Taskforce constructed the dialogue process, it was our desire to allow people with varied theological perspectives to sit around a table to give the Holy Spirit room to work. We wanted to provide a way to have a safe, honoring and sincere dialogue among those who might hold different viewpoints. We know there were many table groups that were not diverse, but the taskforce believes we accomplished our goal because of the many comments about how refreshing it was to have a dialogue rather than a feeling of being judged for holding a belief different from others. 

The taskforce understood that this one series of conversations would not bring resolution to the deep divide in which we find ourselves, but they were a great first step. One of the promises made to those who attended was that their voice would be heard by different groups of leaders of the West Ohio Conference. In October the Board of Ordained Ministry received a report of the findings from the Circles of Grace.  Reports will also be given to the extended cabinet and the General and Jurisdictional delegation in the next couple months. 

The other promise we made was that we would make the findings from these Circles of Grace available to the conference as a whole. The taskforce wants to provide you with a summary of the findings from the Circles of Grace conversations. Below is a summary of our findings, as well as a link to more of the data.  What we are reporting here are trends. Please note the following concerning the data: One, we did not set out to do a scientific study, the results are from those who attended and provided answers to the questions asked. Two, there was not equal representation from all of our districts. So to say that the data represents the view of the entire conference would not be accurate. We do believe that the data is a great snapshot of those who attended and desired to voice their opinions.                                                           

So for the team the bottom line takeaways were:

  • We are a diverse conference (We know this doesn’t come as a surprise, but the data proves this.)
  • We are a conference not afraid of dialogue. We can honor people in the dialogue process while expressing our varied viewpoints.
  • Laity desire to have continued dialogue.
  • The practice of mutual invitation and using the respect guidelines created a safe place for dialogue.
  • We practiced our faith through dialogue.
  • The participation was light from our more rural districts. We need to provide ways for those in our more rural counties to participate in the dialogue.

Each night included not only table conversation, but also anonymous polling opportunities. Please click on this link to see a summary of the polling responses from all four evenings, as well as a spreadsheet listing responses from each table group on hopes and despairs for the future. 

Finally, because many who attended the Circles of Grace Conversations desired to have some next steps, we are planning a follow-up event on February 28 that will provide an opportunity for dialogue and discussion around specific passages of Scripture that address homosexuality. There are also plans in motion to create a curriculum that could be used in the local church or in local communities. Stay tuned to the West Ohio website for more information.

On behalf of the taskforce, I want to thank the people of West Ohio for extending grace in this process and for participating in these Circles of Grace conversations. 

 

Rev. Dr. Brian Law
Circles of Grace Taskforce Chair

cc: Conference and district staff

Members of the Circles of Grace Taskforce:
Rev. Dr. Aaron Brown 
Rev. Brian Brown
Rev. Amy Haines 
Rev. Dee Stickley-Miner
Mr. Harris Tay
Mrs. Mary Shumard
Dr. Patricia Groves 
Mr. Dominic Mejia
Ms. Dorine Vogel