Spirited discussions: Churches’ current events groups weigh faith, issues


Small groups discussing current events at Brandywine Community Church.

Tom Russo | Daily Reporter

They ponder the workings of the Panama Canal, the complexities of conflict in the Middle East, and other topics — alongside passages from the Bible.

The topics are different week to week, but those sitting in a classroom come ready for a stimulating discussion.

On Monday mornings, a group meets in a classroom at Brandywine Community Church for “In the News: Applying Our Faith to Bring Hope for Today.”

“I just enjoy this stuff,” said Bronson Gradowski, one of the people participating in the discussion. “It wasn’t what I expected, but I love what we’re doing. We’re able to kind of take stuff from the news and then turn it back into (a) passage and really kind of digest it. I just love the sharing and the different perspectives.”

On a particular Monday, the group is gathered around a table, reading an article about levels of trust people have with other people, and whether those in a cited survey trust churchgoers more than people in general.

There’s a back-and-forth conversation around the table, about how participants’ trust in others has changed through the years.

“As my day-to day walk in the world goes along, I seem to trust less,” facilitator Mark Bauer said, “but in my day-to-day walk with the Lord, I know I trust more.”

Yet group members ponder a variety of factors that could perhaps affect people’s trust levels. How connected are people in general, and is there a deep enough connection to foster development of trust? As a church grows larger, how do the relationships between members unfold, and how does that affect the development of trust?

“A lot of times, people don’t want the accountability,” one woman says. “When you have a smaller church … you’ve got 50 people or 100 people, and everybody knows everybody — knows what happened to your kids, knows you and your husband got into it … It’s like Mayberry: Everybody knows everybody, everybody knows your business. And a lot of times, people don’t want that.”

After the meeting, one member offers a prayer, and people chat before leaving.

“I’m very interested in current affairs,” Dale Pleak said of why he comes to the group. “It’s been a really good experience.”

Another current events-themed group meets Sunday mornings at Cross of Grace Lutheran Church, an ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregation in New Palestine. There, the Wired Word Adult Forum uses Wired Word weekly subscription-service materials to spark discussion.

Topics have included police use of force, geologists who assert Earth’s rotation is slowing (and what that means for the cosmos), and “compassion fade” — the idea that people can better relate to the suffering of a single person than, say, 10,000 people suffering in a war or other large-scale event.

“The conversations are pretty wide-ranging,” said current facilitator Tom Orr, one of several people who have served in that capacity through the years.

“We have a group of 15-20 who typically show up on Sunday mornings, and discussion is always very lively,” Orr said. “If everyone agreed, we wouldn’t have much of a discussion.”

He describes the church as “a fairly progressive congregation” and says the group is popular and draws people from a variety of viewpoints.

“We have people in the group from both sides of the political spectrum. I think people make an effort to be civil and to speak from their different perspectives.”

He said while people may disagree politically, they generally can find common ground theologically.

“Maybe because we are sitting in a room together as living, breathing human beings, we are able to have a more productive discussion” than on social media, Orr said.

“If Christians can set an example at all in this regard, it would be good for the culture at large.”