Our church is passionate about learning how to best Love God, Love Others, and Help Others Love GodWe are committed to digging into God’s Word together as well as not shying away from important issues in our culture that invite us to ask the question, “What is the good God is working here?”

We are entering into a season of asking important questions around sexuality and Christian faithfulness – recognizing in our church the topic has been pressed to the sidelines but can’t stay there much longer. We need to talk, and in today’s culture we especially need to cultivate the tools necessary to seek understanding from one another around issues that are often divisive.

Our hope is always to refine our witness to the world as Christ’s messengers of the good news of the Gospel, so our desire is to move forward together in unity, addressing conflict head on by listening to each other with gentleness and respect, allowing ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

You are invited to FPC’s

Gracious Family Dialogues:
LGBTQ and Our Church

As we live in discipleship together, we invite you to join with all of FPC to
Gracious Family Dialogues: LGBTQ and Our Church on:

Sunday, October 14th 1-5:30pm*
Saturday, November 10th 1-6pm*
Saturday, April 27th (subject to change), 1-6pm*
There will be Small Groups January-April

At these gatherings,

We will not:
• Abandon the authority of scripture
• Judge each other for personal understandings
• Force others to change opinions

We will:
• Listen to each other with gentleness and respect
• Honor each other’s opinions
• Commit to the unity that we have in Christ with mutual forbearance
• Enter this process without a preconceived agenda,
seeking to discover God’s path for us
• Give this the time needed to proceed carefully, thoughtfully,
and prayerfully as the Spirit leads us

We embrace the words of Jesus,

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have
loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that
you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35

Everyone is welcome!

*Parental discretion is advised. There will be childcare for ages 0-10 by reservation.
Contact Megan at nursery@fpcbellingham.org or (360) 734-5510

Register now to attend the November 10 event:  https://bellingham.churchcenter.com/registrations/events/168965

See letters from our Session leading up to these dialogues:

FPC-Session-letter-April-2018

FPC-Session-letter-June-2018

Get the invitation to these Gracious Family Dialogues in PDF form:
Gracious Family Dialogues invite

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Click topics below to open and read more information.

On October 14, 2018, we gathered for our first Gracious Family Dialogue regarding LGBTQ and our church. If you missed it and would like to ask questions to pastoral staff in person, opportunities are available Sunday November 4th following the 11am service (lunch provided with RSVP), and Wednesday evening, November 7th 6:30-8pm (light dessert). Please RSVP by November 1st to the front office if you are interested in attending – if we do not receive RSVP’s, the recaps will not be held. 360-734-5510 or info@fpcbellingham.org

How we spent our time:

Many of us started with lunch! It was a wonderful time for people to get to know one another better. We’ve been hearing all week about how many connections were made between people in our congregation who have been “worshiping together” for the last 5+ years but have never actually met. What a great way to start the day!
We moved up into the sanctuary to gather for our dialogues. Though there was great trepidation to make time for such a controversial topic, over 90 of us gathered. Joan and John from The Kaleidoscope Institute were leading our time, and they shifted everyone center and forward so we weren’t scattered around the sanctuary. There’s something special about really sitting elbow to elbow with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
When it comes to divisive topics, it is good to have everyone on the same page about how to talk about such things. We each had a packet to reference so that we could all be on the same page about why we were gathered, and how we would agree to spend our time out of care, respect, and love for one another. We spent the beginning of our time committing to communicating well, utilizing Respectful Communication Guidelines. This means:
R – Taking Responsibility for what you say and feel without blaming others
E – Use Empathetic listening
S – Be Sensitive to differences in communication style
P – Ponder what you hear and feel before you speak
E – Examine your own assumptions and perceptions
C – Keep Confidentiality
T – Trust ambiguity because we are not here to debate who is right or wrong
We also learned the process of Mutual Invitation – a beautiful way of inviting one another to share thoughts, so that everyone is heard, and everyone feels the ability to share or not share as they feel led. The general consensus following our first dialogue experience was that individuals were able to really listen to one another (without distractedly preparing to respond, or worrying about what they were going to say), as well as really felt heard. We used the process of Mutual Invitation to discuss a Bible passage in small groups, randomizing constituents by birth months. Many of the groups were truly intergenerational, ages ranged from 11 to 93! It was special to get to hear from one another’s perspectives. The passage we read was:

“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life—this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us—we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”  1 John 1:1-4 (NRSV)

We spoke in our groups about what stood out in this passage, what it taught us about the authority of scripture, and what God was inviting us into in reaction to reading it. It was a rich time, and we were able to listen and share about what God was teaching us through scripture.
We then had an opportunity to practice “Conocimientos” – just another way to get to know one another better. Pages were put up for each group where each person was invited to answer as many questions as they felt comfortable. We completed the sentence to these prompts:
My name is …
One of the main reasons I belong to First Presbyterian Church is …
One of my main concerns about the Gracious Family Dialogues is …
One of my hopes for the dialogues is …
When the topic of LGBTQ comes up, I tend to … because …
We used Mutual Invitation in our small groups to share what we wanted to from those questions, and it was encouraging to see the value placed on scripture, the care and concern around the topic as well as for the health and future of our church. Here is an (anonymous) collection of what we wrote: FPC Oct 14 Conocimientos
The next and last patch of time was dedicated to addressing our church’s history for the timespan of our individual involvement. To do this, we moved into similar-sized groups based on the years when we first became involved in FPC. Based on the meeting’s attendance, the resulting groups looked like pre-1990, 1991-1999, 2000-2004, 2004-2009, 2010-2014, 2015 to present. We were asked to hone in on what was happening in society at the time, what some of the strengths of FPC were, as well as what some of the struggles were. That history was then shared by a representative of each group up front, and we as a whole were asked to pay attention to themes. Here is the breakdown of what was shared: FPC Church History Brainstorm
 
FAQ – Frequently Asked Questions about this series of dialogues:
Why are we talking about this?

We  feel over many years, this conversation has been happening in certain pockets, but not as a whole community. We also don’t feel this topic is meant to be the focus of Sunday worship or the mission of our church, but rather discerned as a community together in a separate space. This season has been initiated by Session and staff as an act of discipleship – leaning into where God is leading us with open hands. Session had the opportunity in spring 2018 to experience a time set aside to talk with one another about this topic, and wanted to recreate it for the entire congregation because it was so meaningful, and truly challenges us to consider what it means to love as Christ does. Their dialogue time did not try to change minds, but to simply listen better to each other.

Our current culture also reflects an inability to dialogue around things about which we may disagree. We feel it is important to hone skills and learn how to talk with one another, learn from one another, and understand each other better. We may or may not change our views on things, but we will come away with a better understanding of how to walk together. We are also talking about it now since the topic affects many people within our congregation (mostly regarding family members and friends) who have felt there hasn’t been a space to adequately address and discuss the topic as a church body centered on scripture, theology and God’s guidance. Refer to the April 2018 Session letter – see link above to see our current stance.

Won’t this just rip our church apart?

Honestly, we don’t know. That’s up to each of us. We hope that all who call FPC their church home will commit to staying together – walking this road of discernment together not knowing where it may lead, but trusting God first and foremost in the process. We want to study scripture together, in the open where we can discuss what troubles our hearts and how Christ meets us there. There has been underlying tension in our church for years regarding this particular issue in the faith community, and we feel it’s important to explore scripture with our church family in order to better understand our way forward. It does feel risky, but we feel it is the faithful path of discipleship.

What is our “end goal” after all of these conversations?

There is no predetermined agenda or outcome, other than learning how to talk about difficult issues. Our purpose is to gather for deep discussion, to better understand God’s leading as well as our own convictions. There is a reality that session may revisit our stance as a church regarding weddings and ordination standards (Deacons, Elders & Pastoral Staff) to reaffirm what it says, or possibly edit it accordingly as to how God guides us in these dialogues – see the Session Letter from 2018 for reference of current standards. We don’t go into this year expecting everything or anything to change on paper, but recognize we must hold our hands open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we can truly be God’s witnesses as the church. We also don’t expect that everyone will land in the same place, but hope we can come to a consensus about how to operate as a church. At the end of the year, our governing body (Session) will listen to those who have participated in these dialogues, and will discuss and discern our way forward as a church. Another lasting benefit of entering this process is that we will have a way of discussing difficult topics within our church family in the future.

Is this an open forum for anyone in Bellingham to attend and hear these issues debated?

This is not intended to be a public debate, it is specifically a family dialogue. We intend these dialogues to serve as a safe, intentional gathering of those who attend and are committed to FPC, to help our Session hear and understand the positions of our congregation members so that we can move forward together in whatever direction God takes us.

 

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