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May 28, 2014, 2:39 PM

Sharing the Power of Reconciliation

23So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”           ~ Matt 5:23-24

     Conflict is a part of all our lives.  Disagreements with family members, misunderstandings between friends, disputes between neighbors, political arguments at local, state, and national levels, and differences of opinion on theology and practice among church members are part of life. 

     The New Testament makes it clear that church conflict has been around as long as there have been churches.  The Gospel of Matthew has a whole chapter on preventing and reconciling conflict, as well as, and injunctions to forgive and to settle conflict within the church rather than taking it to court.  I guess that means that someone in Matthew’s church did take a dispute to court.

     I have experienced conflicts in church as a lay person as well as in my own congregation as a clergy person here in Washington.  In the time that I have served on the Litchfield South Association Committee on Church and Ministry, we have been asked to intervene in both inter-personal and church-wide conflicts among our member churches.  In May, a week-long Conflict Mediation Skills Training Institute was offered, nearby in Hartford, so I jumped at the chance to sign up.  I wanted to increase my own comfort with conflict, learn healthy ways to engage with it, and gain skills in fostering healing and reconciliation.

     The institute was hosted by a Lutheran church in Hartford and it was taught by the director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center.   The Lombard Center not only mediates conflicts on a consulting basis, but they teach conflict mediation to people of all ages and situations, all over the country.  They teach elementary school peer mediation for playground conflicts and they teach ministers interpersonal and inter-group conflict mediation for church conflicts.  It was the latter that I attended for a week early in May. 

     It was a week of intense involvement and exhausting work; but it was inspiring and emotionally moving to experience first-hand the healing strategies that are unique to this kind of Christian mediation.  On the final day of the institute, the whole group (there were 60 of us) role played a full church conflict mediation.  We each took on a persona for the day (we each had a page or more of information about our character and how we had been involved in the church conflicts over the years) and participated in several parts of the mediation process.

     One of the most powerfully healing parts of the process was called “neutralizing history” in which old hurts get brought up and truly “heard” in what is called a “Samoan circle.”  My character, Myra, and her husband Eugene had been hurt by the chair of the building committee fifteen years before when the new wing was added to the Parish House.   There was only time to role-play a small part of the process (which could take more than a full day).  Since the history is covered chronologically, I ended up participating in the Samoan circle and experienced directly the power of the process.  I saw tears in the eyes of many of the congregation “members” who were watching as well. 

     We are all called to carry on Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and some churches even take that call to heart by starting mediation teams within the church.  Here at First Congregational, we could begin by learning more about healthy ways of understanding and transforming conflict within the church.  I will be writing more about this and inviting the whole congregation to participate in a Saturday workshop sometime in the coming year.  It was such a powerful experience, I feel called to share at least a small part of it with you all. 


Pastor Cheryl


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