Have you ever noticed how often scripture emphasizes dialogue? Throughout the Bible, we find conversation after conversation spoken among people, between people and God, and even between a talking donkey and Balaam in Numbers 22. We rely on conversations to grow closer and maintain relationships.
The book “Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High” has been beneficial to me in navigating interactions with family, church, and friendships where opinions vary, stakes are high and emotions run strong. As a pastor, social worker, spiritual director, and coach, people often turn to me for guidance when they find themselves stuck in a conflict or at an impasse in their relationships. Having read this book has been helpful when navigating difficult conversations and I have shared its concepts with many others. While our first reaction to conflict is most likely to either fight or run, our faith invites us to lean in and engage in deeper dialogue.
Therefore, I am grateful for the many ways Mission Mississippi makes room for deeper conversation, asks thoughtful questions, and invites us to consider our actions in a new way. In June 2020, I received a new appointment that led me from Galloway United Methodist Church (UMC) in downtown Jackson, where I had served for 12 years, to Wesley UMC in Tupelo. Moving in the middle of a pandemic brought many challenges to building connections. For example, I prefer meeting face-to-face. However, I found that virtual meetings were offered for statewide gatherings, as well as ones particular to pastors in the Tupelo area. Those virtual meetings helped me build relationships outside of my own congregation, denomination, gender, and race. This is something that would have been much more difficult to do prior to the pandemic.
I was later invited by Rev. Hannah Shempert to join a group studying Latasha Morrison’s “Be the Bridge: Pursuing God’s Heart for Racial Reconciliation” via Zoom. I had the joy of facilitating racial healing circles with the Mississippi UMC conference initiative to End Racism for Good. I have also been welcomed into virtual prayer gatherings where I was uncertain how I would be accepted by pastors whose denominations are not affirming of women in ministry. Time and time again, I have been moved by their willingness to include me as the lone clergywoman. Holding crucial conversations effectively can be transformational. When we engage with empathy, our ability to connect with others can be deeper and more rewarding for everyone. I pray that in the midst of deep disagreements and divisions in our churches, denominations, nation, and world that we might engage in even deeper dialogue that includes asking powerful questions and truly listening to one another.
The Rev. Emily Sanford currently serves as Pastor of Wesley UMC in Tupelo where God’s Spirit is alive. An introvert and enneagram 7, she craves deep, meaningful conversations and brings a genuine enthusiasm to helping the church connect in the community. Originally from Starkville, she is the oldest of five children and loves cheering on her Mississippi State Bulldogs and Duke Blue Devils as well as performing in the Tupelo Community Theater in her spare time.
*Article excerpt posted with permission from the author. You can view the original publication at Mission Mississippi Moments.
For questions or comments, you may contact Rev. Pirtle at [email protected].