April 23, 2013

Time to Sign Up

The Diocese of Pittsburgh today offered an update on the sexuality dialogue. I had been led to believe that the update would include comments from participants, suggesting how the Phase Two session on March 23 (and perhaps even that of April 20) was viewed by those who took part. (You can read my own thoughts on the event here and some additional thoughts on the overall process here. The phases of the project were described in Bishop McConnell’s letter of February 25, by the way.) Today’s commentary included only the following observation:
According to one observer, “at times the atmosphere was electric with collaborative, constructive energy … some participants offered a few suggested tweaks but as a general proposition people communicated that the structure and facilitation were experienced as supporting meaningful, constructive conversation.”
I assume that the “one observer” was a participant, but this is not totally clear. At any rate, the consultants from the Public Conversations Project will not deliver their evaluation of the two Phase Two events until May 13. The team overseeing the sexuality dialogue would have preferred that this briefing be sooner, but participants are being asked to fill out an evaluation questionnaire, and time needs to be allowed for them to do so and for the resulting data to be analyzed, along with the insights from the facilitators themselves.

Readers of today’s update, which carries the headline “Your Opportunity to Participate: Sexuality Dialogue Planning Committee Report,” may be confused by it because it refers to the second dialogue’s being “next week,” whereas it was actually Saturday last (April 20). When initially posted, the piece was undated. It now carries today’s date, but it appears to have been written sometime during the week of April 7.

The primary purpose of “Your Opportunity to Participate” is to solicit participants and facilitators for Phase Three. People who want to participate can sign up here and potential facilitators here. Facilitators will be trained on May 17 and 18. There is no suggestion that facilitators are being screened. Personally, I would prefer that facilitators not be taking on such a role for the first time in their lives. Perhaps we cannot afford to be choosy, however.

I was surprised to read that the forthcoming dialogue sessions are to take place “over the summer.” It is not clear just how many people can be put through the process before the end of the summer, but surely not very many. This may not be much of a concern, however, since the 12-person sessions are to include six “progressives” and six “conservatives.” The implication of “Your Opportunity to Participate” is that if we run out of either progressive or conservatives volunteers, the dialogue will come to an end. On the other hand, the sign-up page for participants includes this question:
Do you consider yourself to be progressive or conservative on the issue of same gender blessings and partnered gay clergy?
        __ Progressive
        __ Conservative
        __ Undecided
Certainly “undecided” is a legitimate answer to this question. Presumably, it is an appropriate answer if you are uncertain about one or the other issue or if you approve of one but not the other. How will undecideds be integrated into the dialogues? I don’t know that those running the dialogue have an answer to that question. Will undecideds be used in lieu of progressives or conservatives if the supply of either of those runs out?

I hope our dialogue ends only after everyone who wants to participate has done so and not when we run out of partisans on one side or the other. If you are a Pittsburgh Episcopalian and haven’t been a part of Phase One or Phase Two, do sign up to be a participant in Phase Three. Do it now before you forget (or have second thoughts).

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