Why Healthy Conflict Is a Prophetic Witness: Facilitated Mediation Network Now Available through the Synod
As American culture continues to reach new lows of over-heated and destructive ways of communicating in politics, social media, and personal interactions, our Christian witness as peacemakers is challenged to adapt and engage in faithful and powerful ways.
A new way to do a very ancient thing – speak the truth in love – has been created as a resource for our churches and presbyteries through the Synod of the Northeast. A network of skilled mediation facilitators trained by the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center is now available to respond to conflicts. The Synod Mediation Network responds to a disturbing trend in the PC(USA) that mirrors our culture: more and more often conflicts in congregations and church bodies have led to judicial processes or even secular litigation that left all parties exhausted, sometimes financially drained, and often with deeply scarred relationships.
Yet the Bible lifts up ways of engaging one another in conflict that lead not only to resolution but also to the possibility of healing and even deepening relationships. Jesus’ taught that when we disagree we should go to our brother or sister, speak to them, and listen. If that fails, we should go to them again with the help of another person…and so on. With respect and trust in the Holy Spirit, conflict can lead to wholeness in the body rather than devastation.
Recruiting and training a group of teaching and ruling elders from presbyteries around the synod is a practical response and resource now available for us to share. It’s also a prophetic witness: a way of embodying our commitment as disciples of Jesus Christ to speak the truth in love to one another when the conflicts arise that an inevitable part of living together in community. About 50 of us from all over the Northeast participated in an intensive, week-long Mediation Facilitator Training led by the Rev. Richard Blackburn, a Mennonite and executive director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center in Chicago. His vocation for many decades has been to act as mediation and train others around the country in a specifically Christian form of mediation high conflict situations.
I am eager to share what I have learned with the presbytery. Not only is facilitated mediation available if there is a high-level conflict in a congregation, there are also resources for our churches to learn healthier habits for communicating and resolving conflicts any time. If you think your congregation may benefit from facilitated mediation, please feel free to contact me or explore the Synod’s Mediation Network page.
As Christians in a society that can be incredibly destructive and uncivil in its ways of communicating, we are called to model and to share something different. Even in our most difficult and painful conflicts, we have been given a way of speaking and listening that affirms that we are children of God who are a connected body and who can move through our differences in a way that leads to unity and healing through the power of the Spirit. Let’s share this Good News!
Editorial Note from Albany Presbytery: This workshop is being offered again this fall in Albany, September 19-23. Lombard Mennonite Peace Center’s Mediation Skills Training Institute for Church Leaders.
Rev. Jennifer Wegter-McNelly is a Teaching Elder of Albany Presbytery who currently serves as an Interim Pastor at Evangelical Lutheran Church in Poestenkill and Faith Lutheran Church in Troy as well as Protestant Chaplain and Spiritual Advisor for Russell Sage College.