We have put our hearts on the table: Compelling vision conversation deepens

Table groups participate in compelling vision conversations during the 2019 Annual Conference. Photo by Glenn Riegel

A “view from the table” by Frances Townsend

We are tired. Even with the Holy Spirit’s help, this is hard work, By the time 4:30 p.m. rolled around and we adjourned for the day, most of us were quite ready to go take a rest

We spent most of the time in our compelling sessions today either listening to the presenters prepare us for the questions or discussing the questions around the table–both of which required our full attention. Today we were asked questions related to Christ-centered action, and asked to cite Bible passages important to us that related to the questions. I was glad I remembered to bring my Bible.

The lead-off questions–“What foundations are core to forming a Christ-centered community and why? Cite biblical passages that apply”–produced a rich discussion at my table and many scripture citations.

I realized something was connecting deep within me, something more than just nice answers to a “test” question. In Mark 10:28-30, Jesus promised the disciples that the loss of family and friends when they became his followers would be outstripped by the gift of community that would be theirs. This text has long been my foundation for seeing the church as God’s blessing to me, as a God-given community.

Every table is equipped with a tablet computer to record the many answers to each question and send them to the process team for compilation. After each discussion period, the process team are able to give us a few “snapshot” answers other tables had come up with. Often our table had enjoyed rich discussion with several good ideas, and yet the answers that were lifted up from other tables never came up at all at ours. We joked that we would need to come up with pithier statements to get quoted by the process team–but it was also good to hear the wide range of ideas and realize that other groups at their own tables might be nudged by the Spirit in very different ways.

At one point the moderator acknowledged a concern shared by many that this process is just avoiding the “elephant in the room,” or the roots of division among us in the Church of the Brethren. So each person was invited to name an “elephant” and to write in few words what that might be for them. Leaders want to understand this better, since different people may have different core concerns, and they may not actually be the same. The tablet computer at my table was passed around to each of us in turn to name our “elephant” and send it in to the process team. That data will not be reported, but will help inform church leadership. Even though the table discussion has helped us trust one another and be vulnerable to each other, it felt appropriate for this question to be privately answered.  

The last set of questions today asked us to consider two of the core scriptures of the church, the Great Commission to go forth and baptize and make disciples, and the Great Commandment to love God with heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How does each of these shape Christ-centered, servant ministry?

They were hard questions, and at that point we really wanted to start “chasing squirrels” to distract ourselves. It was not just because we were so tired, but because we did not want to separate the Great Commission from the Great Commandment, as the computer was set up to do. We wanted to hold them together, loving neighbor enough to want to share our relationship with God so that the neighbor could also be blessed. Maybe as we continue the discussion tomorrow, we will begin to find ways to live this out.

Questions like those we were asked today may sound simple, but before we know it, we have put our hearts on the table for the group to hold.

— Frances Townsend is a volunteer member of the Annual Conference news team, and is “embedded” at a nondelegate table to write about the “table’s eye view” of this year’s compelling vision process.



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