LEARNING FROM OUR EXPERIENCE

circle gatheringFrazer Mennonite Church’s Discernment Process Regarding Membership, 2010-2011

“A Summary to Share with Other Congregations”

            In the interest of sharing what we learned and discovered in our discernment process, we provide this summary to other congregations seeking to learn from our experience.  We pray that this information will be helpful to congregational leaders who seek to plan a deliberate and healthy process of discernment for their congregations.


What we found to be important and most helpful:
1.  Bathing the process in humble prayer.  We involved the congregation from the very beginning in taking a posture of humble openness to God and seeking God’s guidance for the process and the outcome.  We used the symbol of a small, empty pottery bowl made by a beginner potter to capture this congregational posture.

2. Using a Spirit-focused process.  The primary question for our entire process was, “How is the Spirit of God calling Frazer Mennonite Church to respond to gays and lesbians who desire membership with us?”  Our objective was to listen and respond to the Spirit’s leading together.  The outcome was not pre-determined.

3. Using worshipful Circle Gatherings to empower and listen to every voice.  Essential to our process were six Circle Gatherings, in which the whole congregation literally gathered in one circle in our Fellowship Hall (usually 50-70 adults) around a central circular worship table.   We called this our Frazer Discernment Circle.  The voice of every member and regular attender was affirmed as important for our congregational discernment and was heard.   In each circle, we used 3 x 5 cards on which every person expressed themselves using “I” statements and shared what they believed the Spirit of God was saying to us.  The Ministry Team carefully read and listened to the voices of the congregation in order to guide the process along.  We paid special attention to minority voices on both ends of the theological spectrum and made sure they were heard. Learn more about circle gatherings.

4.  Utilizing key scripture texts to set a positive tone for how we engaged in this process and for how we related to one another.   Colossians 3:12-17 was read at the opening of most Circle Gatherings.  It both empowered us and called us to bear with one another.  Later in the process, Psalm 46 reassured us of God’s presence and trustworthiness in our process as we sought out the Spirit’s direction.

5.  Hearing the personal stories of gays and lesbians from across the theological spectrum.  On five Sundays, we brought our brown-bag lunches with us and ate while a guest shared her or his story, followed by an opportunity to ask questions. 

6.  Engaging in Bible study together and hearing various Christian interpretations.  A three-month Sunday School class focused on biblical interpretation and allowed for serious engagement in “the church’s task of interpreting the Bible and of discerning what God is saying in our time” (Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, p. 22).

7.  Taking the time to build trust and a sense of safety to share one’s beliefs and perspectives.  From the outset, the congregation committed to follow the “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love” practices.  The FMC Ministry Team created trust by taking our cues from the congregation and by giving the congregation ownership in the process from the beginning and in every step along the way.  After four months into our process, we were ready to openly share our individual convictions with one another.  The Ministry Team moved the process along but we did not rush the process.

8.  Open and honest communication with conference leadership throughout the process.  We worked hard to keep our conference leaders informed about our process all along the way and to establish and maintain trust with them.

 

Some counsel for other congregations considering entering a discernment process:

1.  Your own congregational and conference context is so important in tailoring a process that fits well for your particular congregation.  Frazer’s discernment process was designed for Frazer within the context of Lancaster Mennonite Conference and cannot be simply applied to another unique context. 

2.  Realize at the outset that the process will probably take longer than you expect it to.  The wind of God’s Spirit moves as it wills and communal discernment of “what seems good to us and the Holy Spirit” takes time to emerge. 

3.  A strong and positive congregational identity and a significant bond to one another in the congregation is a considerable asset for entering such a discernment process.

4.  The congregation’s trust in the leadership group guiding the process is absolutely crucial.  Frazer benefitted greatly by having the spectrum of views within the congregation represented on the Ministry Team and modeling trust in each other and working well together.

 

Pastor Brenda Martin Hurst and the FMC Ministry Team
March 19, 2014

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