If it feels like you don't know where you're going, that's okay. Here's something that can help you reflect on what God might have in store for you and your congregation.
Issue 9: September 2021
Can We Talk?
Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbor, for we are members of one another. Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:25-26
In this, like many of Paul’s letters, he advises the new Christian community on how they should communicate with one another during times of difficulty and stress.  
What might Paul advise the church today?  
Last spring, with the availability of effective vaccines, we thought the COVID crisis was finally behind us and we could return to the “before times.” We were back in the sanctuary for worship and reuniting with our community of faith. But then COVID infection rates began rising and we are once again having to make difficult decisions that cause the community stress.
We want to sing together, share Communion, and reunite with our family of faith, but how do we do it safely?
How would Paul guide us to be faithful to God and to our relationships with one another today? 
These stressful times can lead to disagreements about how to proceed, different ideas about masks, anger over conflicting perspectives on the vaccine and — most important — misunderstanding about our mutual purpose as a Christian community.
In Ephesians, the early church is called to speak truth in love (4:15), to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander, together with all malice. And to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as Christ has forgiven us (4:31-32).
How do we speak the truth in love: truth about how we are feeling, truth about what we want, truth about where we believe God is leading us as a community of faith?
Speaking the truth -- sharing thoughts and ideas openly and honestly -- requires courage, vulnerability and safety, Speaking the truth in our church communities as we seek to build up the body of Christ requires the creation of sanctuaries where people can speak without fear. 
In the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High, the authors write that when you build safety you can dialogue about almost anything. This isn’t something that just happens; “safety has to be made.”
In a crucial conversation opinions vary, stakes are high, and emotions run strong. How do we talk openly? How do we work through high stakes and controversial issues honestly and respectfully and still remain together as a community of faith?
According to the authors of Crucial Conversations, successful conversations encourage the free flow of information and “start with heart”: working on ourselves first and recognizing what we really want (our motives), and developing our personal dialogue skills.
People who are gifted in dialogue, based on their research, keep a constant vigil for safety because nothing kills conversation like fear. For them, the first condition for safety is mutual purpose, which means that others perceive that we are working toward a common outcome, that we care about their goals, interests and values, and vice versa. Finding mutual purpose means that we really must care about the interests of others – not just our own.
At the same time, the authors of Crucial Conversations are clear that “while it’s true that there’s no reason to enter a crucial conversation if you don’t have Mutual Purpose, it’s equally true that you can’t stay in conversation if you don’t maintain Mutual Respect.”
To be able to speak our truth and for others to speak theirs, there must be Mutual Purpose and Mutual Respect -- truth spoken in love. In the letter to the Ephesians (5:1-2a) that means we are called to “be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love as Christ loved us.”
As we continue to learn how to BE CHURCH in new circumstances, may we build safety for crucial conversations seeking mutual purpose while respecting each other, learning to love as Christ loved us.
Questions for discussion
  1. What advice about communication do you think Paul would give the church today?
  2. Is your congregation a safe place for a crucial conversation? How was that safety built? Or how could it be built? 
  3. Do you remember a time when you entered into a crucial conversation that was a positive experience? What conditions made that possible?
  4. Could you identify a mutual purpose for an upcoming crucial conversation in your congregation? Where is God in that purpose?
Join us for a Zoom conversation at noon Oct. 6
The Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Team invites you to join a Tending the Soul Zoom conversation from noon to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 6, for a discussion of the September Tending the Soul of the Beloved Community article Can we Talk?
The conversation, which builds on the success of the BE-coming Church virtual gatherings held in June, will provide an opportunity to talk through our shared experiences related to being the church in the time of COVID. We seek hope, connection and a vision for transformation.
To join us, please register here. After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the meeting.
For Further Reading
In this New York Times op/ed, Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren ponders Isn’t this Supposed to Be Over Now? Using Biblical references along with C.S. Lewis and The Screwtape Letters, she helps us understand why we are worn out, and why we persevere. 
The ELCA held listening sessions on the challenges in Christian communities today. The result is Changing the Conversation -- 10 key takeaways to help understand what’s happening and what next steps might be. From Faith+Leader.
“Five Habits of the Heart that Help Make Democracy Possible”
Adapted from Parker J. Palmer Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (2011)
The human heart is the first home of democracy. It is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole beings, not just our minds, and offer our attention rather than our opinions? And do we have enough resolve in our hearts to act courageously, relentlessly, without giving up—ever—trusting our fellow citizens to join with us in our determined pursuit of a living democracy? —Terry Tempest Williams
“Habits of the heart” (a phrase coined by Alexis de Tocqueville) are deeply ingrained ways of seeing, being, and responding to life that involve our minds, our emotions, our self-images, our concepts of meaning and purpose. The five “habits” to cultivate are:
1. An understanding that we are all in this together.
2. An appreciation of the value of “otherness.”
3. An ability to hold tension in life-giving ways
4. A sense of personal voice and agency.
5. A capacity to create community.
For the complete article and a series of introductory videos about each habit, click here.
Conference Supportive Ministries

In addition to the direct support to pastors and congregations provided by Wisconsin Conference staff, here are some of the supportive ministries congregations can take advantage of. Follow the link below to learn more about this programs and how your church might benefit.
  • Conflict Transformation
  • Coaching Partners
  • Grants and assistance programs
  • Communities of Practice for Clergy or Faith Formation
  • Appreciative Inquiry
  • 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations
  • Readiness 360
View a comprehensive list with more information about Supportive Ministries offerings.
Photo of Supportive Ministries Task Force
Supportive Ministries Task Force
Through this communication, the Wisconsin Conference Supportive Ministries Task Force provides articles, discussion guides and other resources for clergy and congregations on coping and thriving as we navigate the current turbulent waters. Supportive Ministries Task Force members from top left are Bob Ullman, Lisa Hart, Bonnie Andrews, Cathleen Wille and Tim Perkins.
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