In a blog post last week, I suggested the following: "I think that greater reporting on these annual conferences [outside the US] could also remind Americans of an important truth: annual conferences are not and should not be just about politics. They're also times for revival, renewal, worship, and fellowship."
As it so happened, later that day I came across a piece written by Germany Area Bishop Rosemarie Wenner about how Methodist conferences can be a place to learn how to disagree as Christians, not just conduct business. I have translated it below for our English-speaking readers. The original German can be found here.
How We Learn to Argue
By Bishop Rosemarie Wenner
In Methodism, Annual Conference is not only a place for business meetings. Rather, we can allow God’s grace to flow through conversations that we have in Christian community. We should practice this and create the social space in which we can learn speech that builds up and constructive arguing.
Four conferences lie behind me. Three happened in various corners of Germany. The General Conference met in the northwest US. As different as the places and the external circumstances were, in all conferences we came to the unifying theme: How do we live out the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ in a constantly changing world?
Whether these were good conferences or not will be determined by how this impulse is taken and put into action. At General Conference, “Christian Conferencing” was often spoken of. This term, which goes back to John Wesley, is difficult to translate. We need not incorporate the awkward phrase “Christliches Konferenzieren” into our language. We should, however, practice the culture of dialogue that it signifies. John Wesley expected that we could let God’s grace flow through conversations that we have in Christian community. He formulated the following guiding questions:
“Are we convinced how important and how difficult it is that we build our conversation aright? Is it filled with grace? Is it seasoned with salt? Are we endeavoring to offer grace to our listeners? Are we speaking too long on a given subject? As a rule, is not an hour long enough? Would it not be good to prepare for our conversation? And to pray before and after?”
The conferences are over. The dialogue process goes on. In north Germany, there are committees that will begin to work on the questions identified about the future. In east Germany, congregations are busying themselves with the question of how to reach out with less baggage to people in their neighborhoods. And in south Germany, the districts are taking the visions for the future sketched by the District Superintendents to direct the work of the congregations accordingly.
Church as a place of learning for society
The question of how unity in diversity can succeed concerns us not only on a world-wide scale. In the larger political sphere and in our everyday lives, we encounter many situations in which words fuel conflict. We urgently need room in which we can learn speech that builds up and constructive arguing. This also means that we name our feelings and conflicting interests and search for good compromises. If we learn these practices in the church, it will also benefit our wider surroundings.