Dear Voices for an Open Spirit Friend-

As a friend and supporter of Voices for an Open Spirit (VOS), we felt it was important to let you know about this summer’s Annual Conference and the direction of VOS at this time.  You may have heard that the Coordinating Council, VOS’ leadership group, has decided that it is time for our work as an organization to come to a close and to pass the torch on to other Brethren progressive organizations, and Open Table Cooperative in particular.  Before we explain that in more detail, we’d like to highlight the activities and accomplishments of VOS over the past ten years.

VOS began at the 2002 Annual Conference in Louisville and has been a consistent presence offering hospitality and bridge-building conversations wherever possible, as well as  advocacy for inclusiveness and integrity.  After hosting its first fall gathering in 2002, it created and promoted a “Statement of Respectful Opposition” in response to the Annual Conference decision to prohibit the licensing or ordination of LGBT persons, which some 700+? persons co-signed.  The following and successive years VOS provided a hospitality room to welcome all persons to God’s table and to provide a programming venue for progressive conversations led by VOS, BMC, Womaen’s Caucus and others.  We also hosted an annual fall weekend gathering, often with outside leadership, to refresh and equip ourselves for engaging our fellow Christians and Brethren.  Five years ago we invited BMC, Womaen’s Caucus, and others to co-sponsor and co-lead this gathering which has become the annual fall Progressive Brethren Gathering.  Several years ago we added a dinner to our Annual Conference events and have heard from Margaret Towne, Peggy Campolo, Philip Gulley, and Jim Lehman.  Early on we created an email listserve which still remains active.  And we helped to establish and fund the ProgressiveBrethren.org website where one can access information, resources, and events of progressive Brethren organizations.

Reflecting back, it’s been an important and active ten years.  Yet the leadership of VOS has wrestled in recent years as to how to respond to the painful and difficult polarization which characterizes the rhetoric and actions of the majority both within our denomination and the broader church.  VOS has increasingly found itself caught in the middle of battles for which we currently see no potentially positive outcome. In our case, we have come to the conclusion that the most faithful thing to do is to remove ourselves from what has come to be seen as some sort of intractable battle between left and right.  This is one of the major backdrops of the decision to discontinue VOS at this moment in history.

At the same time, there is a fresh group of people, who have even included “cooperative” in their name.  They don’t carry the same baggage from the “battle” that VOS does at this time and while associating with VOS in any way will immediately make them the target of suspicion for some, it is only true for that minority of people who desperately need someone to attack and be critical of due to their own fear driven rhetoric.  We will see who those people are soon enough.  They will begin to label the Open Table Cooperative and assign motives to them for their own gain.

But we find ourselves in the position of also desiring to be supportive of these new voices. We believe that at this point, the best way to make room for a new voice is to step aside and allow them the space to move as they feel called by the Holy Spirit.  We have come to also believe that this is one of those times when to be open to the Spirit, some longstanding and well-meaning groups will need to “let go”, trusting that God is continuing to speak to God’s people today with new voices.  Our choice to support the Open Table Cooperative is part of that desire to empower a new generation by not expecting them to fit into already established “molds” but to free them from our expectations, trusting the Spirit to also guide them as it has done in the past.

We celebrate our long-time partnerships with BMC and Womaen’s Caucus and their work focused on fully including LGBT folks and women into the life and leadership of the church.  But we also feel that there is still a need for a more broadly-focused progressive Brethren organization, and fortunately, such an organization has emerged in the past year for us to pass that torch to, namely Open Table Cooperative.

Open Table Cooperative is a young adult led and internet savvy new organization that is working to empower progressives in the church to continue the work of Jesus in a spirit of bold, visionary, and inclusive love.  Much of its networking and community building is done online through working and interest groups and over the phone in conference calls.  Please visit their website at www.opentablecoop.org to find out more about this exciting organization and how to get involved.  We will work at making sure that all of you technically-challenged folks can remain informed, connected, involved, and active.

Over the past year, VOS has been encouraging Open Table (once called Feast of Love) through moral and financial support.  Roger Eberly and Ken Kline Smeltzer were both present at its initial consultation last October and Ken will be serving on its Board on behalf of VOS.  We want to encourage all of you to get involved as well, both as participants and contributors.  Young adults have a lot of good energy but not a lot of money, so it helps to have supporters to help get people to events and to build a fund for hiring part-time staff.  One of the likely reasons that VOS had difficulty maintaining momentum is that we relied exclusively on volunteers, except perhaps in the early years when Jim Lehman and Bob Durnbaugh essentially served as part-time volunteer staff.

As we look at wrapping up our official and organizational responsibilities we want you to know of the following decisions we have made.  Until Open Table gets fully recognized as a tax-exempt nonprofit organization, we will receive any donations on their behalf and place them in a sub-account for their work, as we have been doing over the past few months.  Please send checks made out to VOS with Open Table in the memo line to our Treasurer, Dan McRoberts, at 6677 W. Mill Run, Caledonia, MI 49316.  In addition, we will pass on your name and contact information to Open Table as our successor organization unless you notify us individually that you don’t want that to happen by contacting Dan at denofdanl@yahoo.com or 616-350-8884.

We will disperse all of our remaining VOS funds to the variety of progressive organizations active in our denomination out of appreciation for their work.  The website, www.progressivebrethren.org will remain up and running and will be funded by VOS through the remainder of 2012.  The VOS listserve will also remain up and running through the fall Gathering while the current Coordinating Council, Open Table Cooperative, and current subscribers of  the list continue conversations relative to what will happen after that point .

This is probably the last official contact that you will receive from VOS.  It’s been an exciting and productive ten year partnership with lots of positive relationships built with each other, a firmer foundation created for progressive witness, and even the opportunity to celebrate with BMC following their reception of a booth at Annual Conference this year.  We’ve enjoyed working with you all and look forward to seeing you at this fall’s gathering in LaVerne (Holy Work: Becoming the Beloved Community, October 26-28, 2012 – go to the website for the details) and next summer in Charlotte around the Open Table or at the BMC or Womaen’s Caucus booth, or in one of the growing number of SCN congregations or other groups.  As we work to conclude activities, please feel free to contact any of us at our email address below to ask questions or offer ideas and suggestions.

So, keep your spirit open and alive, and SPEAK UP!

Voices for an Open Spirit Coordinating Council

David Witkovsky, Convener, davewit@verizon.net                                                  Roger Eberly, mimrog@embarqmail.com                                                                     Nancy Faus-Mullen, fausna@gmail.com                                                                     Kreston Lipscomb, pastor@1stcob.net                                                                               Dan McRoberts, denofdanl@yahoo.com                                                                            Ken Kline Smeltzer, bksmeltz@comcast.net                                                                     Lani Wright, lani@epud.net

If you would like to join the VOS listserve, it is still active. You can join here voslist@googlegroups.com