“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
“The Church of the Brethren Annual Conference exists to unite, strengthen and equip the Church of the Brethren to follow Jesus.” We find great joy in gathering together. Ironically, the power of our unity can magnify our feelings of vulnerability and frustration. These feelings are not conflicts that can be resolved; they also don’t justify reacting to others unkindly, nor with threats, attacks, or accusations. They are a call to respond respectfully when we are feeling most uncomfortable.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44). This isn’t easy and we don’t have to do this work alone. The Annual Conference officers have asked the Ministry of Reconciliation (MoR) of On Earth Peace to help us work collaboratively to create a culture of faithful love and respect.
We need everyone’s commitment to create a climate of safety “so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Romans 1:12). This means:
— Give each person time to speak, think, and listen.
— Speak from your own experience without assuming the motives and thoughts of others.
— Speak respectfully so that others can hear you without becoming defensive.
— Listen thoughtfully to build trust and to increase your own understanding.
If you are considering what to say or are uncomfortable with what another is saying ask:
— Is it safe?
— Is it respectful?
— Does it encourage faithfulness?
Reflecting on and talking about safety, respect, and Christ-like love will create a culture of respect and faithfulness:
— Recognize vulnerability. Jesus said the second greatest commandment is to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12: 30). Keeping yourself and others safe creates a safe environment for all.
— Those who are in the minority or who are regularly criticized and challenged publically understandably feel vulnerable and need to be treated with sensitivity in order to feel safe.
— If you feel vulnerable use the buddy system. Check in on a regular basis to let your “buddy” know how you are feeling.
— Reduce unnecessary risk. Walk in groups as much as possible. Walk after dark as little as possible. Be aware of your surroundings.
— If something feels “off” or uncomfortable take another route or make another choice.
— Contact the Ministry of Reconciliation to help you assess the situation and what your choices are.
— If you feel threatened or in danger get immediate help from the nearest source: Ministry of Reconciliation (MoR), hotel staff, or security.
Stop harassment. “Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters dwell in unity” (Psalm 133:1). Annual Conference is not a place to hurt, ridicule or threaten anyone for any reason. Words or actions that attack or condemn are not acceptable.
If you feel like you’re ready to confront or speak out against someone, contact MoR. They will listen and talk with you about the message you want to be heard and appropriate ways to magnify your voice without putting others down.
If you feel you are being harassed, contact MoR. They will help you consider behavior, motivations, and appropriate actions.
If MoR notices aggressive conversations they may check to see that participants feel safe. In cases of threatened or actual physical violence MoR will enlist the help of security.
Our prayer is that we can make room for the Holy Spirit to move in our midst by helping each other feel safe, respected, and encouraged to be faithful. We can’t do it alone. God grants us the grace to do it together even as Christ calls us to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34).
— Bob Krouse is moderator of the 2013 Annual Conference of the Church of the Brethren, to be held June 29-July 3 in Charlotte, N.C. He also pastors Little Swatara Church of the Brethren in Bethel, Pa. The Ministry of Reconciliation (MoR) contact number during the 2013 Annual Conference will be 620-755-3940.