A new resource is available to congregations seeking constructive ways to address LGBT+ issues. Open Dialogue Resources, the publisher of “A Sanctuary for Conversation: Living, Loving and Learning” materials and workshops, fills a growing need for churches that want to begin discussion of the range sexual identities, but may be unsure how to proceed.
At the 2015 North American Division “Called” Ministerial Convention in Austin, Texas, a large convention hall full of Adventist ministers worked through the “Sanctuary for Conversation” materials together. Chris Blake, Associate Professor of English and Communication at Union College, led the workshop, which included exercises in listening, dialoguing in small groups and examining case studies and synopses of leading literature from a variety of disciplines on sexual identities.
Blake has not only led “Sanctuary for Conversation” workshops, but has also developed the materials through conversations with LGBT+ individuals and as a result of lots of reading. Blake recognized a need for materials and processes that helped move beyond simplistic, binary thinking about homosexuality and other sexual identities. Instead of engaging in the church's frequent arguments over the rightness or wrongness of allowing homosexual individuals a place in Adventist congregations, the workshop focuses on genuine dialogue among church members.
Participants in past workshops, including an event at the Berkeley Seventh-day Adventist Church, have provided anonymous comments on their experiences. These are samples of participant feedback:
“I have grown because of the time I spent listening to the presentations, discussions, and panel. As a result of this workshop, I have taken away an understanding of how to become a better minister to all.”
“The spirit of loving, humble discussion was filled with opportunities to sense and share God’s Holy Spirit.”
“We asked them to become more empathetic, not to change their beliefs, and as we showed tangible ways to do that they seemed very receptive, which was incredibly encouraging.” (a gay Adventist presenter)
“Thank you for the courage to hold this event.”
“Especially enjoyed the interviews with actual LGBT+ people.”
“I came today asking God to make me a student, and my prayer has been answered.”
“During my 27 years in Adventism, I have never seen such a spirit of humility expressed from the leaders of the church. No one came to prove ‘I’m right, you’re wrong,’ or to ‘school’ someone else on their theology. Instead, we all came to learn, be honest, and work together to improve the lives of our LGBT+ youth.”
“If you want your church to be a true community that is loving and compassionate, then do this workshop—it will make everyone more aware of their humanity.”
An excerpt from one of the handouts that accompanies the workshop.
“Our agenda,” Blake has said (and it’s part of the workshop materials) “is this: we aim to create safe spaces for positive, healing, informed, authentic conversation.”
The Pacific Union College community in the area around Angwin, Napa and St. Helena will have the opportunity to participate in the workshop this weekend at the Deer Park Community Hall in St. Helena. On Saturday, May 14 at 3:00pm, the Haven Adventist Church will host a “Sanctuary for Conversation” workshop free to the public. Organizers hope the event will attract at least 144 participants. Participants may RSVP on the Open Dialogue Resources website under "Events." The website includes free sample materials and introductions to the workshop process for churches interested in hosting an event.
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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