First session focuses on
“Racial Understanding in Our Community”
A Farmington church will offer a pathway for the community to listen, learn and safely talk about racial justice.
The event sponsored by Minnesota Council of Churches is called “Respectful Conversations: Racial Understanding in our Community,” and is slated to take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday Dec. 14, at Faith United Methodist Church, 710 8th St., Farmington.
All community members are invited to the event that begins with a light supper 6 p.m. An online Zoom option will be available simultaneously for those unable to be present. The online participation is limited to 15 and all must reserve a space in advance. The event coordinators for the online viewing ask one person participate per device.
Minnesota Council of Churches has partnered with more than 300 congregations and community organizations throughout the state to host more than 8,000 “Respectful Conversations” in Minnesota.
Facilitator Scott Evenson explains this event will allow residents to explore difficult issues through a structured, facilitated discussion.
“These conversations are not about getting everyone on the same page or getting everyone to think the same thing,” Evenson said. “The Respectful Conversations invites people into a safe setting where all viewpoints can be heard,” he added.
The racial justice event is designed to enhance relationships in a community.
As a chaplain, Evenson is seeking ordination through the United Methodist Church to become a deacon. A chaplain serves to link the community with the church and faith-related issues like racial justice. Evenson has worked as a faith leader in community hospitals and giving support EMTs and police. He also works with young people living in group homes, in prison ministry, and has ministered to those facing all the challenges surrounding drug or alcohol recovery.
The racial justice conversations are designed for participants to experience empathy and reduce feelings of animosity between opposing viewpoints. After participants may leave after having explored an issue through the lens of their own personal life history and deeply held values.
The Minnesota Council of Churches report previous participants build better listening skills, develop a greater interest in other people’s opinions, and improved relationships as lasting results of the conversations. The Minnesota of Churches is made up of many denominations besides Christian denominations.
Evenson said the listening and questioning skills participants practice can be applied to the rest of their life.
“It is a way of holding a conversation about a hot topic that helps facilitate a meaningful conversation without shouting at each other or talking over others,” Evenson said. “This is the work that needs to be done to build empathy on a subject, and other viewpoints on that subject."
Respectful Conversations are being deployed by churches, community organizations, institutions of higher education, nonprofits, public schools, and governmental agencies to strengthen relationships and manage conflict among different constituents.
“I have been trained in the methods and practices and have done a number of conversations in the past that are held all over the state,” Evenson explained.
“In our case, we noticed at Faith church, there are a number of events that have come up over last few years over race and our interaction with people of color,” Evenson said.
Citing the disagreement when Farmington City Council informally agreed not to approve a city Juneteenth proclamation last year, Evenson said this disagreement led to controversy in response to this decision that affected the entire community of Farmington.
“We noticed there needs to be a better understanding of people of color and we need to find a way to talk about that, and we hope this is the beginning of a much broader conversation that we hope will continue,” Evenson said.
The meeting format includes guiding table conversations and allowing open discussions about a topic to take place. “The rest of the evening will be spent in guided questions that have been developed,” he said.
“No one has to speak - we go around the table and people can discuss their thoughts and opinions, and people can develop answers or state their answers without anyone interrupting,” Evenson said.
Farmington City Council and other leaders on Farmington School Board have been invited to attend.
“I think it helps to create a community of individuals who are more open to different people of different cultures moving into the community and becoming good citizens and business owners,” Evenson said.
“We want to encourage conversations that don’t end up becoming divisive because everybody has an opinion, and we want to provide a safe place to experience race,” he said.
“In Minnesota, we certainly know in a period of the last few years, race has been a very important conversation to engage in, and we need to talk about how to talk about it and build a better community and a community for all,” Evenson added.
Expressing how online social media platforms allow people to become anonymous and say hurtful things without feeling shame or repercussion from shared words and sentiments, Evenson said “If you can get people in a room sitting around a table with guidelines and rules, then everyone can be heard and it provides more open with more active listeners, he said.
Faith Methodist Church plans this racial justice session will be the first community conversation open to the public.
“Probably the next one will be more directed to talking about the controversy at the Muslim cemetery,” in Castle Rock outside Farmington that was vandalized in recent months.
Volunteers are needed to assist with event setup, cooking, serving the meal, and serving as a table host. A training session for table hosts is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7, at Faith Methodist Church, 710 Eighth St., Farmington.
Register with the church office at (651) 460-6110. Contact Scott Evenson with questions at (763) 370-4245.
Evenson is hopeful greater understanding on racial justice issues can be reached for the community of Farmington.
“People can go forward with meaningful conversations rather than digging in their heels and saying this is what I believe, and no one is going to change my mind.”