I recently had the privilege of hosting some ‘Conversations for a Season of Complexity’ or, less formally ‘What Next? Conversations’ recently. Promoting these events generated a very strong response, and they were oversubscribed to the extent that some of the topics were run for more than one group. The groups were limited in size to a facilitator plus nine people.

I hosted two sets of conversations, one on Worship, and another on Children and Young People. There were to be two sessions for each of the groups, separated by one or two weeks. In parallel, the facilitators put together a framework for the conversations and devised questions designed both to stimulate and focus the conversations. The whole thing felt like a voyage of discovery, and I know we were all excited and motivated by our roles. A real plus was the ability to facilitate without close direction, and for each host to bring their unique skills and experience to the task.

After personal introductions, we heard from each person on how they were experiencing lockdown and coping with it. We then moved on to talk about the future, what it might look like; what changes had been made; what we’d keep and what we’d stop doing; how we’d deal with situations where some engage happily with technology, and others not, and what that might mean long term.

The second group was very different, in both tone and substance. The conversation was structured similarly to the first one, but participants were much more concerned about losing people with whom they have, in the main, had much less frequent or in-depth contact.

The meetings were intrinsically interesting. In general, people are pretty tired. At the same time, many have been very energised. Coping has been a challenge for some. Context, as always, has a massive influence in how people have managed their own situations, technology, their Kirk Sessions and congregations. There is much concern about a how ‘blended’ solution might work when all this is over. There was little enthusiasm for a phased return. The new normal will be different for everyone. Where there was enthusiasm for ‘digital’ church, there was also a desire not to lose it. People did not like the phrase ‘going back’!  In future more collaboration should be encouraged; within Presbyteries and with other denominations. Several Ministers said they would be using this process with their own congregations, and that it could be beneficial for Presbyteries.

May I offer my encouragement to you in doing this? Getting others’ views can only help us to better focus our efforts and may help in identifying expertise and talents of which we might be unaware. The conversations may also be way of getting consensus where difficult choices have to be made. There may be people on the fringes who are ‘attending’ our online output and with whom we wish to continue a relationship. This could be a good way of doing this. Guidelines for the meetings and a list of questions, many of which have been tried and tested in the process, are to be available on the Ascend website. Altogether a very worthwhile initiative.