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Fireside chat, series one, Our Wesleyan Way: Holy Conferencing as a means of grace

By: Rev. Rebecca Trefz, Southeast District Superintendent and Director of Ministries, and Rev. Dr. Bruce Forbes, retired Dakotas Conference elder

When we meet to discuss our faith with others, we do so to encounter God. We can encounter God in prayer, in creation, in worship, in community, and yes, in sharing, learning, and debating with others– holy conferencing, especially when they are not like-minded. Encountering God through holy conferencing is one of the primary means of grace, and enjoys a rich history in the Wesleyan tradition.

Here is some background on holy conferencing as a means of grace.

  • Holy conferencing most likely comes from Wesley’s use of "Christian conference", a phrase he used once in the 1763 doctrinal minutes typically referred to as the “Large Minutes.” 

  • Wesley lists Christian conference as one of only five instituted means of grace. Placing Christian conference in this category is significant. 

  • These are practices that are not limited by the particularities of cultural context, historical era, etc.  

In this episode, we explore holy conferencing as a means of grace. Joining Rev. Rebecca Trefz in the conversation is Rev. Dr. Bruce Forbes, a retired elder of the Dakotas Conference, served in extension ministry as a religious studies professor for 40 years at Morningside University. 

Key scripture:

 Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other.  And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity.  The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people.  The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.  Colossians 3:12-17, CEB 

Key questions:

  1. What is your historical and foundational perspective of Christian Conferencing as a means of grace?
  2. How does Colossians 3:12-17 , or another scripture  speak to you about what holy conferencing is or maybe what is not?
  3. What are some ways that you have seen or experienced holy conferencing happen?
  4. Annual Conference is fast approaching, how can we live out holy conferencing as a means of grace during the conference session and other times in our lives?

Resources on Holy Conferencing:
Guidelines for Holy Conferencing: What God Expects of Us - We believe Christians can discuss important issues without acrimonious debate and parliamentary maneuvering. We see too many examples of that in secular society. We believe the Holy Spirit leads in all things, especially as we make decisions. We want to avoid making decisions in a fashion that leaves some feeling like winners and others like losers.

Means of Grace: Christian conferencing - As people of God, United Methodists are called to participate in Christian conference — one of John Wesley's means of grace. Along with searching the Scriptures, fasting, prayer and Communion, Wesley taught that Christian conference is a practice that helps people experience God's grace.

Holy Conferencing - A Presentation to the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church by Kevin M. Watson. "I believe that reclaiming an accurate understanding of holy conferencing in contemporary United Methodism is the most important thing that we could do as a church. And I believe that if we were to reclaim this practice, that God would bless our efforts and we would see profound renewal in communities where this took place."

Resources on the means of grace:
The Means of Grace: Ministry Matters responds to the questions—what are the “means of grace”? What does that phrase mean? United Methodists and other Methodists worldwide trace the phrase “means of grace” back to John Wesley. 

The Wesleyan Means of Grace: United Methodist Communications writes John Wesley taught that God's grace is unearned. As we look at the means of grace today, they can be divided into works of piety and the works of mercy.

Skits Guys–Grace: In this conversation between Jesus and Peter, grace is illustrated when Jesus forgives the unforgivable. A video by Skit Guys.

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