Foundations for Dialogue

May 18, 2017
8:30 a.m.  – 4 p.m.
Carol Joy Holling’s Swanson Retreat Center

This day workshop will give church leaders tools to guide hard conversations related to social issues. We live in a world that jumps from hot topic to hot topic and where congregations struggle with where to land and how to act. Pr. Walt Lichtenberger, a skilled facilitator of hard conversations, will teach skills and format related to guiding these conversations in a way that opens minds and hearts to the full range of viewpoints and fears. We’ll end the day with a panel of congregation leaders who are acting in response to social issues. These people will share challenges and opportunities that they have encountered. Congregation leaders will walk away with tools to guide these conversations in their church, as well as ideas on how they might act in response to these conversations.

Workshop Facilitator:

Walt Lichtenberger is currently serving as Lead Pastor at St. James Lutheran Church in Burnsville, MN.  As an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America with twenty years of parish experience, he has a passion for both preaching, presiding, writing and teaching.  At St. James, he worked together with a variety of people to bring about a lively reformation of communion practices.  Table conversations played a key role in not only allowing for liturgical reformation but also allowed for healing following a period of intense congregation conflict.   Walt holds a D.Min. from Union Presbyterian Seminary, a S.T.M. from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and his M.Div. from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Gettysburg.  He maintains a weekly blog on Eucharistic Living on Among the many special people in his life, Walt shares special thanksgiving for his family - his wife Katie and two teenage sons Noah and Mark.

Workshop Schedule & Topics:

8:30 - 9 a.m. – Arrival and Registration

9-12 a.m. – Foundations for Dialogue

A Different Kind of “Table Talk” 
Martin Luther hosted famous “Table Talk” conversations with colleagues and students around his table. During this year of the 500th anniversary of the reformation, a different kind of “Table Talk” is being imagined.  Instead of scholarly debate that seeks to win a point, we seek to foster conversations that honor difference and encourage participation from all.

Values Around the Table:

  • Setting the table with Romans 12:9-18.  Unpacking the verse to glean community values for holy conversations in community.
  • A quick look at values present in Jesus’ table practices in gospel of Luke.
  • Intentional conversation as Sacramental Engagement.
  • G.R.A.C.E. (God’s grace, respect, appreciation, compassion, encouragement) at the heart of unique conversations that honor each person, their experiences, their perspectives, and their truth.

Table guests – Paradox and Liminality (promise of transformation amid mess)
Even at times when it might seem that there is clarity on social issues, embracing paradox is helpful.  Leaders run the risk of alienating people when they champion the poles of partisanship. Liminality is also a useful concept from ritual studies. This is the space where thresholds are being crossed and life is open to transformation.  Although you can’t create liminal space, leaders can work to set the table in such a way that invites transformation with questions like “where is the truth at the other pole?” 

Presider as Table Host
Administering this important conversation should be done with the same care that is given to administering the sacraments. Providing a space for holy conversation demands that we engage our hearts and set aside personal perspectives and our vast knowledge for the sake of genuine ‘table talk’.  

Setting the Table
Using the format for Unique Conversations which is based loosely on Respectful Conversations model that was developed by the MN Council of Churches, we will practice a ‘fun’ conversation to practice this model.

12 - 1 p.m. Lunch 

1-2 p.m. - Practicing a hard conversation – Topic: Immigration 

Sharing a Meal
Practice makes better. We’ll use the topic of immigration to practice this model and learn from experience what it is like to be a guest at the table.

2:15– 3:45 Panel Discussion – facilitated by Pr. Paula Lawhead

Panelists from congregations that are practicing unique responses to social issues will be present to share their experiences and bring light to challenges and opportunities present in the process.


Lutheran Family Services - Prison Ministry, Refugee Resettlement, Food, etc...
Holy Cross Lutheran/Omaha - Food Shelf - represented by Pr. Jim Killough
Countryside Community Church/Omaha - Tri-faith Initiative - represented by Rev. Chris Alexander
St. Michael Lutheran/Omaha - Refugee Resettlement - represented by Pr. Tim Koester
The Friends of Tamar - Sexual and Domestic Violence - represented by Teresa Houser

3:45 – 4:00 – Wrap up, Evaluation, Thanks 


$35 per person - ($100 maximum per congregation)
Cost includes workshop and lunch