EPA and A Way Forward
EPA and our congregations can thrive even as we recognize that United Methodists have different beliefs, understanding and experiences concerning human sexuality. Congregations have core convictions about their ministry, who they are to be in ministry with and who God calls them to be.
We invite congregations to develop covenants about how they will be in ministry with God, with one another and with the community as they seek to thrive in serving God.
Many congregations want to move forward with ministry that affirms the full participation of LGBTQ+ persons in the life of the church, while other congregations are not ready or do not see this as a part of their ministry. Congregations can develop other covenants that affirm their convictions and beliefs about their ministry with God, with one another and with the community.
EPA is prepared to resource congregations by providing facilitators to help people in congregations engage with each other to:
- Develop a Covenant
- Start a Graceful Conversation to identify convictions and beliefs
- Participate in Outward Mindset training to see all people as children of God who matter just as they do.
As EPA congregations make and live out covenants to thrive in their contexts, we invite you to create covenants in which blessing and loving God and your neighbors will guide your ministry. You are also invited to pray for every congregation throughout the covenanting process.
Graceful Conversations Are Mutually Respectful Conversations
Graceful Conversations are a viable way to ensure that all people matter. They will enhance relationships and communication, and support churches during the covenanting process. Graceful Conversations will support our mission to make disciples and grow vital congregations to transform the world. They allow us to:
- Grow together in holiness as disciples.
- Discern God’s voice through sharing insights with each other.
- Speak honestly, openly and respectfully with each other.
Some congregations may want assistance in learning how to have difficult, graceful conversations in the midst of difference, prior to considering or engaging in a covenanting process. EPA will provide training and a process for how to have grace-filled conversations in which all voices are heard and respected, and words can help or heal, rather than hurt.
Graceful Conversations use the Circle Process, which provides a safe space for telling and hearing stories and going deeper into our own stories. In the image of the circle, we have a visual representation of our interconnection and interdependence. In the circle, participants:
- Acknowledge God’s presence from beginning to end.
- Actively listen for understanding.
- Speak the truth in love.
- Do not tolerate behaviors that cause harm in conversation.
- Make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to speak and are freed to listen.
As part of the circle process a talking piece is used. The talking piece enables everyone to have a voice, including the quiet ones, who are often the wisest. It enables the talkers to listen.
- Speak when you are holding the talking piece.
- Listen when you are not holding the talking piece.
- Use mutual invitation: The last speaker, rather than a leader, chooses the next person to speak, to equalize the power among all participants.
- Right to Pass: Circle members may pass if they choose, but they may still select the next speaker.
Our Way Forward Covenant: The EPA District Superintendents
The District Superintendents of the EPA are a theologically diverse team that seeks to model what it means to live in community and to carry out our church’s mandate to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
As congregations and clergy seek to understand their ministry with the LGBTQ community, we covenant to:
- Focus our efforts to resource pastors and congregations to THRIVE in the mission field.
- Work with each pastor and congregation, realizing our diversity—culturally, ethnically and theologically—so that all may minister with integrity in each unique context and from a sense of calling from our Wesleyan heritage.
- Appoint pastors that align with the congregation’s understanding of itself and its ministry.
- Use congregational and clergy advisory forms and congregational covenants to appoint clergy so that appointments are aligned with the beliefs and needs of a congregation and pastor.
As we do this important work, we commit to:
- Guide our clergy and congregations to stay focused on the mission and EPA strategic plan and goals.
- Respect congregations and clergy in their convictions.
- Give attention to the complexities of congregational theology, culture and ethnicity when discerning matters of human sexuality in making appointments; and honor a congregation’s covenant and theology.
- Resource pastors and congregations to grow in intercultural competency.
- Work for faith, hope, love and justice for all with courage and joy.
- - - SAMPLE - - -
A Sample Congregational Covenant
We, the [INSERT CONGREGATION NAME] covenant to:
- Be disciples who [describe who you are as a congregation]
- Be a congregation who serves [describe the community you will serve]
- Be in ministry with [describe the ministries and missions you will do]
- Be committed to [describe how you will work together as a congregation to fulfill this covenant]
- Be in connection with [describe the congregations/organizations/groups who you will serve with]
- Additional congregational covenants
Date: [fill in date here]
Agreed to by the members of: [INSERT CONGREGATION NAME]
[INCLUDE SIGNATURES (optional)]