Out of the Box: Coffee & Conversation
By Judie Holcomb-Pack
On a Thursday afternoon, a diverse group of people gathered in a modified circle to discuss the topic of the day. Some folks took a seat on the couches and others scooted their chairs closer, coffee in one hand, cookies in the other. Someone asked, “What are we talking about today?” and another replied, “LBGT.” But another commented, “It should be more than that, like humanity. What does that mean? Is the human family evolving?” And the group was off and running!
The lively conversation was thoughtful and ranged from talking about the LGBT community and the need to accept people as they are, to personal freedom and does that mean you can do anything as long as it doesn’t harm other people.
This was a typical afternoon at the Out of the Box conversation group that meets every Thursday afternoon at the Shepherd’s Center of Winston-Salem. The group was founded when Ann Ryder asked Bill Hoffinger if he would like to take on leading the spirituality coffee house that the Shepherd’s Center had started. Twelve years later, after a gradual change of focus and name, the Out of the Box group is still meeting, still discussing deep questions with passion, sincerity and humor.
The purpose of the group, as expressed by one long-time member, is “None.” They agree to accept people and their opinions, to not criticize, but attempt to understand different perspectives on a topic or concern. There is a list of possible topics, but Callie Carter, who was facilitating the meeting that day, said, “Half of the group wanted a list; the other half wanted to see what came up.” The compromise was a list that didn’t have to be adhered to. The topics were fluid, depending on what people wanted to discuss that day.
The makeup of the group is diverse: from various religious views to an atheist; mostly liberal, but some who expressed more conservative leanings; male, female, black, white – a broad spectrum that is representative of our community. One member commented, “No matter how diverse we may be, we have never not been able to have a civil discussion.” The group frequently discusses topics that may be uncomfortable, but they feel it’s important to share and to learn from others.
More than just a conversation group, the people who attend regularly have become close and supportive, sharing their ups and downs, health issues or personal problems, knowing that confidentiality was an important rule in the group.
One member who is a full-time caregiver arranges this time as a respite and her primary social outlet. As she explained, “This gives me a time to laugh.”
Another agreed. “It’s a fun place to be on a Thursday afternoon.” Then he added, “We used to have a bigger group, but they keep dying on each other.” A little macabre humor, but it got a big laugh from the group.
“It’s refreshing to be able to go somewhere and talk to people with some intelligence,” another commented. The topic for this week was intriguing and brought forth some interesting comments. Looking ahead to the topic on the list for next week: Is monogamy a necessity for our culture? What makes Ashley Madison so successful?
Sounds like another lively conversation is in the works! The name of the group is certainly appropriate – they are really thinking “Out of the Box!”
If you are interested in joining the Out of the Box coffee and conversation group, contact Susan Meny at the Shepherd’s Center, 336-748-0217.