This past February many in our community met together to reflect, pray, and envision our Conejo Church’s future. As an introvert, the idea of gathering for an afternoon of rotating small group discussions for 2 hours was daunting. I was quickly relieved as the groups were kept to 3 people and the discussion time for each question was short. From the first question I found myself deeply engaged, inspired, and curious as I experienced a new appreciation for my fellow Conejo members as they shared thoughtfully and deeply with trusting vulnerability.
The first question, “What price did others pay for me to be here?” revealed my tendency to answer questions focusing on what’s in front of me today – i.e., “Jim stayed home with Joanna so I could be here.” But as others answered with much broader views, I was overwhelmed with the realization of all the people in all the churches to whom I have belonged who have sacrificed throughout my life to bring me to this moment at Conejo. They sacrificed to bring me to Christ, loved me as a child, teen, young adult, single adult, married, married with children, married with adult children, full-time caregiver, and empty nester. In all these life stages, it has been the church communities who poured into me, watched over me, and walked with me in the most wonderful times of my life and in the hardest times of loss and hurt.
Were the people in all these churches perfect, without conflict, or without experiences of hurt and disappointment? No, none of these churches were perfect or without conflict. Yes, at times I experienced hurt and disappointment at these churches. What I remember and hold in my heart about the difficulties and disagreements, though, is not the topics or circumstances of the hard times; rather it is how people treated each other through the difficulties. Was it an angry discussion whose sole purpose was ‘to win’ or was it a thoughtful discussion with more listening than talking? Did the questions reveal curiosity and respect rather than condemnation? Did I leave the discussion time understanding more about the different ideas and beliefs and their importance to the people sharing them? Or did I leave the discussion sad and upset because of derogatory language and intimidation tactics?
Our discussion time in February was revealing — showing me how we can have conversations that are designed to help us listen more than talk, ask clarifying questions, choose to share with vulnerability on topics where we disagree, and treat each other lovingly in the process. Throughout the different meetings in the vision process, we heard this quote over and over: “If you can talk about it you can manage it. If you can’t talk about it, it will manage you.”
Today after our worship service we have a unique opportunity to enter into deeper conversation as we share ideas to bless the Conejo Valley, receive updates on the building expansion plans, and continue to envision our shared future. May God bless our ongoing conversations!