Creative Power of Conflict
All growth is hard. Much growth is stimulated only when we are faced with something challenging. This is true for churches just as for all complex systems. When we look at our histories we see the times of struggle as the ones that define our identity.
Nevertheless, we are afraid of conflict and flinch from it. This allows us to hide it from full awareness and slows our response to it. When we don’t address a significant issue the issue doesn’t go away, it gets stronger and harder to address.
Inevitability of Conflict in a Community of Faith
Our biggest conflicts arise in the relationships we have with the people who are the most important to us. If we don’t have conflicts in our congregations it is because there isn’t much investment in the community or because we are so good at hiding the issues. The measure of a faithful church is not how little conflict it experiences but how well it addresses the conflicts which arise.
Necessity for a Trusted Perspective outside the Community
While many conflicts can be well addressed by those involved in the conflict, some issues are so polarized that the person who might be an agent of reconciliation (for example, the pastor) may be seen as so self-interested as to be ineffective. Sometimes we are ourselves so close to the issues that we cannot see them fully. We need some distance. We need a perspective from outside the system that is not seen as a party to the dispute.
Role of a “Peacemaker”
The Peacemaker is not a mediator or a therapist but is a mirror and a coach. The task is to help the parties see what is happening (by being a clean mirror) and to help them know what to do (by being a skillful coach).
- A Peacemaker is a person known to the congregation as trusted friend.
- A Peacemaker doesn’t serve his or her own congregation but will be entrusted with others with the care of several area congregations.
- The Peacemaker will be present from time to time in the life of congregations she or he supports by presenting Moments for Mission or by conducting classes.
- The Peacemaker will consult with the Pastor from time to time.
The Peacemaker is present in the life of the congregation asking the questions,
- “What are the conflicts that are arising now?
- What do you notice the Holy Spirit prodding you towards by the presence of observed discord?
- What do you notice are points of tension or distance arising in your common life and what does that say about possibilities for new ways of being the Church?”
Proposed process for training and certification
The process by which the Peacemaker Fellowship will be introduced to and integrated with the life of the faith community depends on the policies and procedures of each denomination. This is an experimental program and will be built as we go. Nevertheless we are very clear that it has to be very transparent with a high level of accountability. All parts of the church must be in covenant with each other but in a manner that feels safe and thus confidential. We will have to construct this with care.
Introduction to Peacemaker Training
The first step in the training of Peacemakers is an day-long (six-hour) interpretive event in which the details of the program are laid out and the scope of the training is clarified. This is a chance for those who think they may be called to this ministry to begin a process of discernment for themselves and to explore their own options for creative resolution of conflict personally.
Those who decide to move forward will participate in a two-day retreat that will provide an experience of the transformative potential of reconciliation in all dimensions of their lives. There will be homework to prepare for the retreat and there will be ongoing conversations following the retreat to support the integration of new ways of being into our lives in the world.
The fundamental tools taught in the Introduction and in the Two-Day Retreat are taken from a body of work called JustConflict. You can learn more about those tools by exploring this site.
At the end of the retreat each participant will receive a certificate of completion.
Ongoing support and collaboration
Each judicatory will have its own structures for supporting and utilizing the resources of Peacemakers. Ideally they will meet periodically with each other in geographic areas based on need and in a manner appropriate to their circumstance (some teams may choose to meet by electronic means). All Peacemakers will gather annually to review their experiences and renew their skills (the form of the annual conference may vary).