North Decatur UMC Invites Community and Church into Conversation
By JESSICA BRADFORD
Once a month, North Decatur UMC and the Greater Decatur churches gather to present a moderated panel discussion of experts on topics of concern to the community. These topics have included homelessness, racial reconciliation, mental health and creation care.
The idea came about a few months ago when North Decatur’s Outreach Chair and other staff members met to discuss the overlapping passions of the church and the community around them. They realized that the community and church both have passions for understanding the issues they are facing, and responding in thoughtful and meaningful ways.
Rev. Patrick Faulhaber, pastor of North Decatur UMC, says each topic brought a completely different group of people and all four brought an even number of church members and community members not related to the church. And most months the conversations lead directly into meaningful action the church and everyone attending can take to make the community better.
Faulhaber says the conversations on race and environmental justice were the most lively conversations.
“In the conversation on race, we were able to have earnest dialogue as a panel and as a gathered community about anger, resentment, and fear, alongside systemic injustice, that keeps us from seeing genuine change in the structure of society that unjustly holds white folks in privilege over folks with black and brown skin," said Faulhaber.
Faulhaber says having hard conversation teaches us how important it is to listen.
“Hard conversations are hard because they challenge our assumptions and force us to look at the world through someone else’s perspective," he said. "When we take the time to do that, we learn empathy and compassion, and we learn how to allow ourselves to be vulnerable.”
Furthermore, he says that these kinds of conversations need to be held in safe and open environments where everyone is willing to have hard conversations because entering into dialogue without any compassion leads to argument and resentment that only deepens the divides we feel in society.
North Decatur plans to have many more ‘community conversations’ in the future.
“We will start again in the fall! Our September panel will be with folks who identify as LGBTQ, and October will be on immigration,” says Faulhaber.
These tough conversations have encouraged people to continue the conversation beyond the panel discussion itself. So, as the church looks to relaunch some conversations in the fall, they are are also hoping to host follow-up conversations that lead toward action and response to the topics themselves.
Jessica Bradford is Communications Assistant in the North Georgia Conference.