Sponsoring Institution: Saint John’s School of Theology and Seminary
Youth Theology Program: Youth in Theology and Ministry Program (YTM)
Contact: Dr. Jeffrey Kaster, Director, YTM – email@example.com
Trinitarian and incarnation theologies of God provide a theological foundation for YTM pedagogies for catalyzing Christian community. If God’s very self is community and God is enfleshed historically within Jesus, but now enfleshed within the Body of Christ (community of faith), then young people experiences of Christian community signify communion with the real presence of Christ. “See how they love one another” becomes emblematic of the community at YTM. It inspires youth and becomes the most meaningful aspect of their experience. Trinitarian and incarnational theology is linked to Christian mission through an exploration of God’s mission for the world and Christ’s call to become his hands, feet and voice for justice. Sometimes community is an end in itself within ministry, but these two theologies push YTM to continually orient community towards mission.
Within Roman Catholic theology these two theologies merge into the sacramental theology of Eucharist where real presence is experienced in word, sacrament, and community. The Didache provides a beautiful reflection on this from the first century:
As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains, but was brought together and became one, so let thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into thy kingdom, for thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever.
Title of Practice: Table Talk
This practice was introduced to us by Beth Corrie at YTI and adapted by Jessie Johnson at YTM. We used this the last two years as an optional free time activity. We had four table talk conversation last summer. The first two were staff-directed, the next two were youth-led with support from staff. Comments in the evaluations suggested that youth very much appreciated safe spaces to talk about difficult issues. And a number of youth are planning projects back in their parishes to duplicate this experience. Below is the layout presented to youth at YTM in 2016.
YTM Table Talk
Why is it so hard to talk about controversial issues without getting angry? Can we disagree and still be friends? Is everyone really welcome at the table? Where is God in all of this? Can I allow myself to have a change of heart? What does it mean to listen?
Table Talk is your chance to explore these questions (and more!) within a safe, respectful community of faith. We are a diverse community, and this diversity makes us dynamic and powerful. We don’t agree about everything. But let’s move away from talking simply to convert people to our way of thinking, or to be propped up in our own beliefs, or just for the sake of getting in an argument. Instead, let’s explore what it means to listen deeply, reflect thoughtfully, and disagree respectfully.
Join us at four different times throughout the YTM Summer Institute for YTM Table Talk. We’ll ask the hard questions and reflect together on what our faith says about them. We will listen to one another. We might not find the answers. We will disagree. But we will also strive to understand each other more deeply and see things from a different perspective. We will consider how our own ways of thinking contribute to (and sometimes take away from) God’s vision for our world. And we’ll learn and practice strategies for how to engage difficult conversations and topics after we leave YTM.
Meet under the Abbey Bell Banner at 5:45 as we work together to seek a better, more civil way to think and talk about the things that matter. And if you’re up to the challenge, you can lead a Table Talk conversation during the second week of the Institute.
So…will you come to the table?
Table Talk Guidelines
Be present in your listening and speaking. Try to understand where another person is coming from as best as you can. Listen with your heart when another is speaking and we pledge to listen to you with our hearts when you are speaking. Remember the two-for-one principle: listen intently twice as much as you speak.
Approach the conversation with a spirit of good will. Someone may disagree with you, but this does not mean that they are a bad person or that they want to hurt you. Assume the best in all present.
Speak your truth. These conversations give us the opportunity to speak our truths about our experiences. Being able to speak truth does not mean that people will not respond emotionally. Be prepared to experience the discomfort that difficult conversations can bring.
Experience discomfort. Discomfort and anxiety are normal parts of difficult conversations. Many people confuse safety and comfort. It is possible to have perfectly safe conversations where people are also very uncomfortable.
Take risks. Staying silent out of fear of saying something wrong, avoiding conflict, or making someone else uncomfortable misses the opportunity to authentically engage with one another. The more you are willing to risk, the more potential we all have to learn.
Speak only for yourself using “I” statements. You are only an expert on yourself.
Expect and accept non-closure. Engaging in difficult conversations means that there will be times of non-closure. This is ongoing work that does not usually lead to solutions. Think of non-closure as an invitation to further dialogue—beyond the present conversation.
- Invite the Holy Spirit into the conversation. Ask for wisdom, courage, and grace.
- Review the guidelines above. These guidelines are our covenant to one another. By being a part of this Table Talk discussion, you agree to abide by this covenant.
- Reflect and share.
- Why do I want to talk about this topic? What questions do I bring to this conversation?
- What is my experience of this topic?
- What do I believe about this topic? What is challenging to me about this topic? Why?
- What wisdom might my faith speak into this topic?
- What is God’s invitation to me? How might the Holy Spirit be challenging me to respond?
- Consider future strategies for engagement. What lessons or approaches have we learned from this experience that we can take with us into other difficult conversations?
 Adapted from the Difficult Conversations Project by Rosy Kandathil, OSB and Caprice D. Hollins and Ilsa M. Govan, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: Strategies for Facilitating Conversations on Race (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015).
Effectiveness of the Practice
Young people long for spaces where they can talk honestly about controversial issues and listen to diverse perspectives. When enough trust is built, magic happens. Youth experience a sense of Christian community that inspires them to consider perspectives beyond dualistic thinking. I was a bit surprised by how significant these conversations were for youth. It appears that they do not experience spaces where they can have constructive dialogue with diverse perspectives often.