March 8, 2017, UPDATE. The Vestry held a special meeting Tuesday, March 7, to decide on a negotiated compromise on the final cost and timing of this consultant-guided process. The Vestry voted unanimously to support continuing work by the consultants, even though this will cost up to an additional $4,000 (for a total of $16,000 maximum).

Here’s the background. Some six weeks ago, the D&D committee completed its first phase, the “Discovery” part. The committee presented an eight-page report to the Vestry and to parishioners summarizing the feelings of all the church members who participated in 13 focus groups led by pairs of D&D members. Organized as themes or answers to eight questions, the report noted many good feelings and some serious problems.

On Feb. 20, a letter from the two consultants arrived just minutes before the Vestry meeting, and copies were circulated. Due to “unforeseen issues” that drove up their expenses and the time involved, they wrote, the $12,000 the Vestry had agreed on last April is not enough to complete the process. They said they expected it would take as much as $6,000 more than the original estimate to complete the job. It was supposed to be completed in March, but now they said it looks like it could go as late as May.

The Vestry was concerned. That seemed quite a cost overrun – 50 percent. Also, it was hard enough waiting for recommendations until March, and now it might take an additional two months? The Vestry discussed the matter and decided that Keith Gibson, the Vestry member serving on the D&D committee as liaison, should negotiate a less expensive conclusion.

He and Anne Hansen (a D&D member now also on the Vestry) arrived at a compromise with the consultants. There would be a work day with the consultants in March and a final recommendation for the Vestry by April 6. That additional charge for the consultants would be as much as $4,000, making the total maximum $16,000 — not $18,000.

Driving up the cost and the time was not the consultants’ doing, but the result of the seriousness that the D&D committee brought to this endeavor. Anne and Keith underscored that point at the Feb. 20 Vestry meeting.  The six D&D members, in addition to the focus group sessions they led, have met almost every other Thursday night for two hours since last June. Apparently, they were more serious and thoughtful than the consultants anticipated. They have held back nothing, but in a covenant of trust they have kept their work confidential and agreed to speak as a group, despite differences of opinion. Anne laughed to say she probably knows the others better than she knows anyone. Keith made a similar point.

The committee is to come up with “action items.” But more important may be the model they have pioneered – a bond of Christian love that transcends differing opinions. The consultants speak not of conflict “resolution” but conflict “transformation.”

Dec. 14, 2016, UPDATE. The information-gathering phase is over. The Discovery & Discernment team is now preparing an interim report to be shared with the Vestry at its annual retreat Jan. 13-14. Col. Keith Gibson, the Vestry’s liaison on the D&D committee, thanks parishioners for an excellent participation level of approximately 100 adults. The report will be shared with the congregation after the Vestry receives it. Work on recommendations will begin in January, he says, adding this: Please continue to be in prayer for the committee and the process.

“Assemble and hear, O sons of Jacob; listen to Israel your father.” – Gen. 49:2

By Doug Cumming

One evening last week, Libby and I escaped the rash noise of this very political October to spend a calming two hours in the new upper room of our Parish House. It was our turn to attend one of the twelve focus group sessions that our Discovery and Discernment Committee has been holding all month. I am on the Vestry that voted unanimously to hire the two consultants who got this ball rolling. I chaired the ad hoc committee that picked the members of the team that came to call itself the Discovery and Discernment Committee. I felt a lot was at stake for our church, and I hoped my expectations weren’t too high.focus-group-1

I was put at ease from the start of the session, but not just because I was among Christian friends. What accounted for the sweetness of this experience, I wondered. It was not just the setting, although that large new room that has been made over for college ministry has a contemporary simplicity that promises a whole new feeling for ministry at our old church. I think, finally, the secret of the evening’s peace was a little object that the D&D facilitator explained with an air of mischief, holding it high. It has magical powers, he said. The person who holds it becomes the only one in the room who can speak. All others are to listen. We laughed, but this was the serious business of the focus groups as described in the letter of Sept. 8 that went out to the whole parish – “open, respectful communication.”

I remember from the Vestry retreat last winter this game of passing around a Speaker’s talisman. The two consultants from Eastern Mennonite Church were there and introduced it to us. At that time, we went around the circle speaking from the heart and being listened to. The magic object then was a lovely slice of polished stone – with no particular meaning. This time it was of similar material, but it was a cross.

Having permission to be quiet and listen, and a chance to speak and be heard – what a powerful alternative that is to the uncivil discourse of our Election season, cable TV rants and the way we all talk and talk and talk. I am thankful to the members of the Discovery and Discernment Committee for spending many hours over the summer to bring this process to us now.

Members of the committee are Keith Gibson, Anne Hansen, Tammi Hellwig, Greg Lemmer, Ann Nay, and Steve Shultis. If you haven’t signed up for a focus group, it’s not too late.