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Answering questions

Area Christians learn method of facilitating open discussions on God

Guides help facilitators learn how to answer questions with an open mind.
Photos by Rosa Salter Rodriguez | The Journal Gaze
A group of area residents learn to facilitate Q Place discussions during a training session at St. Michael Lutheran Church.

It’s called Q Place, but it’s not a specific place.

A coffee shop can be a Q Place. So can a factory cafeteria, a dorm’s multipurpose room or a family home’s kitchen.

Organizers of a new approach to meeting the spiritual needs of area residents say the key to being a Q Place is not a spot on a map but a person – one trained to deal with what the “Q” stands for.

That would be questions – about God, Jesus, the Bible, life, death, belief, doubt and faith.

About a dozen Christians from area nondenominational evangelical and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod churches have been meeting for the last several months with the aim of bringing the Q Place model to Fort Wayne.

They’re becoming trained to facilitate discussions about such questions.

“We would like churches and people of faith to start Q Places, because it’s a place where people can discuss questions about God and the Bible, especially if they don’t want to go to a church,” says Jan Teat of Fort Wayne who works for Q Place’s national office in Carol Stream, Ill.

Teat says many people avoid churches because they feel they’re being judged about something in their past or present. Q Place facilitators, she says, learn to approach people – and their questions – in an open-ended, nonjudgmental way.

A Q Place, she says, is “like a safe zone for anyone of any background.”

Although the Q Place model is new for Fort Wayne, Teat says the organization is more than 50 years old.

It began in 1960 in New York with two women, Marilyn Kunz, a field staff member of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, and Catherine “Kay” Schell, with Nurses Christian Fellowship. At that time, the organization went by the name of Neighborhood Bible Studies.

NBS developed study materials that could be used outside a church setting, did not assume previous Bible knowledge and avoided religious jargon. NBS recently renamed itself Q Place.

Leaders are now convinced that their inductive teaching method – letting participants ask questions and come to answers on their own while being guided by the Bible – had relevance in reaching a younger generation.

“The fact is few and fewer people, especially young people, are going to church,” says Teat, adding young people often are not schooled in religion and quite likely shy about bringing up spiritual concerns with their peers for fear of being labeled.

“But young people still have spiritual questions, and they don’t know how to find answers,” she says.

Dave Waldrop, 69, is involved in starting a Q Place at Southwest Lutheran Church, which has an affiliation with the national program. He says young people and the Q Place approach can be a good match.

“I would say it’s very applicable to college-age and beyond, when faith is being questioned and goes under scrutiny,” he says.

“But I think it (the attraction) goes across the board from young people all the way to baby boomers who are dealing with different questions like about facing the futility of life without hope.”

Waldrop says the listening skills he has learned while training to start a Q Place have been helpful in other aspects of his life.

“The thing I like is the training we are given is to listen and validate people so they feel safe,” he says.

Leaders say no question is off limits for people who participate in Q Place discussions. Even if someone asks a question about what the Bible says about homosexuality or divorce, they would be reassured that they are welcome, Teat says.

“I’ve been to a number of Q Places, and I’ve never come across anyone with those kinds of questions. Usually, the questions are more basic – ‘Does God exist? Why does God allow evil? Don’t all religions lead to the same God?’ ”

Adds Karen Kuehnert, director of small groups at St. Michael Lutheran Church and a Q Place trainee: “We don’t have all the answers, but we do point to Scriptures on love, especially.”

Others now involved in Q Place training include members of Brookside Church, Life Community Church and Aldersgate United Methodist Church, all in southwest Fort Wayne. Members of other churches attended a meeting in February to learn about the program.

Organizers say their aim is not to convert people to Christianity or recruit for particular churches, although they acknowledge that it would be disingenuous to say they don’t hope for those outcomes.

“The premise is that people need to discover things for themselves. They don’t want someone to tell them what to think,” Teat says. “What we want is spiritual growth in a person, guided by the Bible.”