Reblogged from: Herald Magazine’s “Connect | Engage | Inspire”
by Greg Clark – Integrated Communications, Community of Christ Intl. HQ
A narrow field of issues will transcend a broad expanse of church geography in June.
Over a two-week period, Australia and Canada—more than 9,600 miles apart—will host similar national conferences that could impact ministry in their countries.
The conferences, each under the guidance of Doctrine and Covenants 164, will focus on issues of sexuality. Recommendations could lead to policy changes within their nations, and other countries certainly will watch.
Though Australia and Canada share similar situations they are taking different approaches and facing different circumstances. For example, same-gender marriage is not legal in Australia, but it is in Canada.
Australia’s conference will start June 2 when members meet at the Drumoyne Congregation in Sydney. Canada will follow June 16 when its members gather at 15 sites linked electronically. Kitchener, Ontario, will serve as the hub.
The Australia conference will focus on one issue: whether ordination should be open to people regardless of their sexual orientation. The Canada conference will address whether to permit ordination of people in same-sex/gender marriages and whether to allow priesthood to perform same-sex/gender marriages.
Both conferences are designed only to decide whether to make recommendations. The First Presidency and Council of Twelve will draft interim policies if a national conference recommends that a policy change.
Despite the differences, the nations hold commonalities, too. Each approached its conference after a prolonged period of discernment, prayer, and study. Each will have the benefit of the recently released Statement of Sexual Ethics (www
.CofChist.org/ethics/). And each is asking God’s Spirit of peace to help all voices be heard clearly and compassionately.
The path to these national conferences opened when the 2010 World Conference accepted new scripture. It said some issues were better addressed in a particular nation or field, not the World Conference. Then it gave further guidance:
…timely resolution of pressing issues in various nations is necessary for the restoring work of the gospel to move forward with all of its potential. Therefore, let the proper World Church officers act in their callings—as already provided in church law—to create and interpret church policies to meet the needs of the church in different nations in harmony with the principles contained in this counsel.
Where possible and appropriate, convene national or field conferences to provide opportunities for broader dialogue, understanding, and consent. In those gatherings, let the spirit of love, justice, and truth prevail. —Doctrine and Covenants 164c–d
Apostle Susan Skoor noted Section 164 honors great diversity. “The intent…was to enable the church…to deal with issues specific to a nation, culture, or field when there are issues that could cause harm if considered in other nations….”
The recommendations of these conferences will not go before the 2013 World Conference. Even if recommendations receive approval, nobody should expect overnight changes. The conferences are only the middle point of work that Skoor said began with “prayer, preparation, discernment, dialogue, and conferring.”
If the conferences recommend changes, leaders will need time to:
- Draft and revise policies.
- Develop a framework for policy changes.
- Provide pastoral care and follow-up to any members upset with decisions.
- Assess when and how more dialogue is called for.
Also, if a conference affirms current policy, the church will need time to support that decision.
“So patience will continue to be needed among all concerned as we move into the weeks and months following the national conferences,” Skoor stressed.
It’s uncertain whether the journeys of the Australia and Canada conferences will reach similar endings. But there’s no question that they’ve followed similar paths.
Neither conference will use delegates, instead preferring open participation. Both have gone through months of study, dialogue, and prayer. Each conference will rely on similar consent-building methods. And both will need a two-thirds majority to make recommendations.
“The heart of the national conference itself will consist of another dialogue session,” explained Ken Barrows, president of the Australia Mission Centre. He projects 150–200 of the nation’s 2,900 members will attend.
In Canada, the 7,200 members are spread over vast areas, posing special challenges.
The answer was the electronic conference, but even that brought difficulties because of the nation’s five time zones. “Members from both ends realize the flexibility required to make it feasible to hold such a conference for all Canadians,” noted Tim Stanlick, president of the Canada East Mission Centre.
“No one knows the impact our decisions or lack thereof will have on others,” emphasized Stanlick, who expects about 750 participants. “We beat different drums.
“The post-conference follow-up ministry to individuals will be required no matter what the outcome. Undoubtedly, there will be members who will not be satisfied with the outcome. Our wish is for them to feel good about the process.”
The impact of the conferences will extend far beyond the events themselves because of what members learn in the quest to become a prophetic people. Skoor summed it up:
“The national conferences are an opportunity to confer in new ways and to celebrate the unity in the midst of diversity that makes this faith movement strong.”
She suggested the conferences would succeed “if we can learn from some additional ways about how to be a people of discernment, a people committed to common consent, a people empowered by God’s Spirit to discuss difficult issues in an attitude of love and compassion for one another.”
“To this end, may God bless us as we enter into the national conferences, and gain from them the teachings that may result.”