is one of a series on Conflict Resolution in the Faith Community published
by the Conflict Resolution Center International. For more information
about conflict resolution contact:
Resolution Center International
204 37th Street
Pittsburgh PA 15206-1859
Tel: 412-687-6210 Fax:412 687-6232
E-mail: [email protected]
the Conflict is OverLet the Healing Begin!
know the scenario: the liturgy or the minister or the youth program
rankled since time began. Finally, the issue came to a head, the offending
party left, and the bitter meetings are finally gonealong with
the members who quit in disgust. Well, you sigh, surveying the carnage,
at least the conflict has ended. Or has it?
you listen to professional mediators and conciliatorsand the participants
themselvesyou hear quite a different story. Yes, the new minister
is ensconced in the pulpit, and everyone seems happy, but there are
those undertones about who cost the congregation whatand why.
such feelings do not dissipate overnightor perhaps even over decades.
In the following case histories, see how the conflict ended, then consider
how the healing might begin. The actual resolutions, as well as mediation
Book's Better Than Yours!
When one Pacific Northwest congregation
was feeling its age, some newer members wanted to update the liturgy.
Predictably, the congregation split along generational linesthe
older members kept it the way they had always prayed, while the younger
revisionists moved across town.
With My Dollars You Don't!
When one river city congregation split over writing an institutional
budget, there was a great deal of misunderstandingand angerover
new programming. "The budget was eventually passed," one combatant recalls,
"but the real result was a lot of distrust."
Minister Right or Wrong!
When one Midwest minister resigned under a firestorm of allegations
concerning co-mingling congregation fundsand congregants' wivesa
once-proud church was decimated. One-third left with him, another third
simply left, and a third was left to deal with the acrimony.
Roots Grow Deeper Than We Know!
When one Great Plains congregation found its minister accused of ethical
misconduct, and ordered a mandatory leave of absence while they straightened
things out, they found that a seemingly straightforward conflict stretched
back a quarter-centuryand had to explode.
Let Us What? Together!
When one East Coast congregation finally relieved its errant minister
of his duties, they felt the healing would begin. An interim minister
came to begin working on a conciliatory liturgybut found strong
pockets of resistance.
Wash Me In Someone Else's Sins!
When one coal country congregation
barely survived three ministers in eight stormy years, they hired a
man with a reputation for healing just such wounds. Walking in the lion's
den, he found angry congregants fuming over his predecessors' alleged
misuse of time, fundseven computers.
What? How Does The Mediation Begin?
In every one of these instances, merely to stop the conflict was not
to staunch the wound. Indeed, mediation specialist Mark Chupp, in Conflict
Transformation: A Spiritual Process, defines intrachurch healing
as a deeply spiritual process [which] goes beyond dispute settlement
to address internal needs and root causes. Transformation takes place
only when the creative spiritual energy within each person comes to
life and results in an internal shift in perceptions.
tall order? Perhaps, but many resolution experts claim the spiritual
side is the only way for complete congregational healing. But how do
such ideas work?
see the aftermath of the six conflicts stated aboveand what vital
resolution lessons can be learned:
Sometimes no answer is the answer. When the Northwest congregation
reached an impasse, and couldn't do anything to resolve the conflict,
they set aside acrimony and entered into an amicable divorce. The once-fractious
group now gets along just fine, but in separate facilities with widely
Lesson: Agree to disagreeand leave it at that.
As world-renowned author and lecturer Rabbi Yisroel Miller puts its,
"It's a peculiarly American delusion to believe that every problem has
a solution. Some don'tand never will."
Roger Fisher in Getting To Yes, sometimes an outright split is the best
for all partiesfor only then can each side begin the healing process,
each in its own time and space.
They made a budgetand drew a blueprint for the future.
Once the river city expenditures were approved, the warring camps began
to talk to each other again. What's more, the pro-youth group wisely
invited the anti-youth group faction to get involvedand they did.
"It was spontaneous regeneration," one observer says.
Lesson: Never be afraid to take a riskfor peace.
"Frequently," warns Ron Kraybill in The Cycle of Reconciliation,
"the proper words may be spoken on every side, yet in people's hearts
there is distance and bitterness [because] no one is willing to risk
anything." Therefore, he adds, although building post-conflict relationships
may be difficult, that hand must be extendedthat risk must be
takento move forward.
the minister left, the congregation remained badly split. Some Midwesterners
blamed the errant minister, others blamed the congregants who fought
for his dismissal. But simply changing clergy was not enough: the laity
needed to articulate their sense of betrayaland learn from it.
Lesson: Learn from your mistakesand prevent a relapse.
"Focus on learning from the experience," counsels David Brubaker,
a renowned mediator often brought in after a conflict is over to facilitate
healing. "Congregations are like people," he adds, "in that they are
not looking for change. That's why conflict is good: it makes people
think. A dispirited congregation will ask, 'what's wrong with us?' That's
precisely when they can begin learning how not to repeat the same mistakes."
outside mediator helped show them the historical nature of their conflicts.
Under unflinching self-analysis facilitated by a professional mediator,
the Great Plains congregation discovered that they tend to avoid conflictuntil
conditions go over red line and lead to an inevitable explosion. With
help, they created an early-warning system to identity sources of potential
conflictand to defuse them before they become self-destructive
Lesson: Bring in a mediatoror the wound may never go away.
"Because both sides only see anger, the key is to have them talk
not to each other," says Larry Stone, a professional conflict mediator,
"but to the impartial third party. The mediator does not play Solomon
the Wise but instead pulls the anger out of each side and then validates
what is important. Once each side begins to articulate exactly what
they feel is important, and to listen carefully before reacting, they
begin to exchange information instead of invective. That's when the
real healing begins."
The congregation continued to grope for a way to heal. When the East
Coast minister's dismissal polarized the congregation, a recovery team
worked on reconciliation, including a half-dozen congregational meetings
for people to talk about their pain, informal get-togethers, intimate
meals, even an interim minister to work on a liturgy of reconciliation.
While factions still remained, and were considered inevitable, the final
celebration of healing required that congregants write down the things
they felt they had lost; then, as a way of putting the entire experience
behind them, the cards were publicly burnt.
Lesson: Accept polaritiesand understand that you need both sides.
"After any conflict," comments Carolyn Schrock-Shenk, a Mennonite
conciliator, "you have to accept the fact that people are at very different
places. People have to accept those differences, have to understand
that they experience things one way, but that people in next pew experience
them differently. Healing does not mean that everyone thinks the same
way. Instead, it means bringing people together, having both sides see
their real need for each other."
A calm, steady hand won the day. Determined to be his own
man, the new minister was careful not to align himself with any faction.
Speaking calmly, never revisiting the past, never blaming anyone, he
set about doing his job, deliberately spending time with every groupuntil
he became accepted by all of them.
Lesson: be above itand don't look back.
Healing, says Rabbi Isser Pliner, begins with clergy. A new minister
"has to establish himself as an individual with a caring personality.
He must demonstrate that he understands the congregation's mission,
must see the congregants as consumers, and must prove that he is going
to put out the best possible product for them. Simple humanistic traits
are so important to heal wounds."
1999 Conflict Resolution Center International, Inc.