Many of us would like our congregation to be a peaceful haven far from the tensions of the world.
But even though congregations are spiritual places, they are also organizations made up of fallible human beings.
We bring our baggage with us and that can lead to conflict, even among those people we look up to as leaders.
At their best, congregations heal some of the brokenness of the world in our lives. But that doesn’t happen automatically.
The following seven steps help people to open ourselves to allow God to work through us and through the congregation we belong to. It takes personal effort to bring about the healing we seek.
These steps are not just for the staff members involved in a particular conflict, but also for all the other people affected by those tensions.
This process is best done in its entirety at home, but steps one and two can be used in the heat of a conflict situations as well.
Take a deep breath. Say a prayer. Remember why you come to this congregation. Give thanks for the blessings the community has brought to you and others. Ask for guidance. Cry out in anguish. Or just say a basic prayer that you find comforting. This step allows you to stop and remember what is most important.
Reflect on what you are feeling in this conflict situation or as a result of these tensions. Name your feelings out loud (to a friend, trusted advisor, God), or write them down on paper.
Identify times when you have felt this way in other situations including at home, at work, in school, in your extended family or at other times in this or another religious community.
Look for themes or broad commonalities among those situations. For example: not being in control, feeling attacked or disrespected, questioning the morals or values expressed by another etc.
Identify your own role in this situation. Identify what you personally can do differently to change the intensity of this situation. (Note this is about self, not about what the other person or persons can do differently.) Try this new behavior.
If this process is immediately helpful. Celebrate and remember to use these steps again the next time conflict arises. This process can ease many congregational tensions especially if all the parties in conflict and the main people affected by the tension use it.
If this process is not helpful or only partially helpful. As in families, sometimes conflict is rooted deep in a congregation or has progressed to level at which outside help becomes necessary. Set aside feelings of despair, embarrassment, fear or blame long enough to call for help from someone outside of your congregation.
You may have a denominational authority or resource person who can help out, or a neighboring pastor who is willing to give an outside perspective on the situation. Or call a Congregational Counselor like the Rev. Dr. Lynn M. Acquafondata.
Take a deep breath and say a prayer. Remember why you come to this congregation. Ask for forgiveness for your shortcomings. Make a commitment to new ways of interacting. Remember what is most important and allow yourself to take a step or two today to live up to those ideals.