Conciliation - Is it for you?

Laura Coulter

20.2.2018 | Congregational Life, Conciliation Service

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s (PCI) Conciliation Service exists to assist Presbyterians in dispute to find resolution. In her first blog, conciliator Laura Coulter gives a fictional (if not unfamiliar) example of where conciliation might be something for you. She reminds us that disputes and differences are part of life in the church; conciliation can bring about positive changes and restored relationships.

Unity Presbyterian Church has a magnificent organ and a large choir. Many members love to listen to the organ and find great inspiration from the mostly traditional anthems. However, many young adults are feeling more and more dissatisfied with the music.

In recent months many of the young adults have been attending special worship events with much livelier music. Some of the young people are finding it increasingly difficult to return on Sunday mornings to the music used at Unity PC. They have started a ‘Music Group’ and have asked the minister if they can replace the choir on some Sundays.

A gathering storm

The minister, who has some sympathy with their request, decides to bring it to the worship committee for discussion. The worship committee consists of six members plus the minister. All are over fifty years old and three sing in the choir. When the matter is raised one member suggests that if these young people wish to sing they should join the choir. Another says, “I wonder how many people there really are who want the music to change!” They then look around the circle of those present to see if anyone will speak up.

Seeing that the idea is not going to go anywhere the minister decides to leave it for the moment. Knowing that this would disappoint the young people who suggested it, the minister doesn’t report back to them.

This example is a case study developed by Doug Baker and Mediation NI but does it sound familiar? This situation is typical of one that may lead to a conflict within the congregation. It is good to remind ourselves that disputes and differences are part of life in the church as we find in Matthew 18:15-17 and Acts 15:1-34.

Conflict is a part of life and can be used by God to bring about change and learning. In this situation, whether it is a breakdown in relationships between two groups of people, between a minister and an elder or elders and lay members, conciliation may help.

Ask for help

The important thing is to ask for help as early as possible, before the situation has become entrenched and is impacting an increasing number of people. In the imaginary case of Unity PC, two PCI conciliators would meet separately with the minister, the choir members and the young people. They would assess the situation and, if appropriate, suggest a number of conciliation meetings in order to help the parties discuss their issues and find resolution.  

I have been working as a conciliator with PCI for more than 10 years and have seen first hand the positive changes and restored relationships that conciliation can bring. Last autumn, we trained a group of new conciliators and had a further training weekend take place in January.

Our service exists as a resource to support individuals and groups within churches who are struggling with a church-related conflict. Contact the co-ordinator on +44 (0) 28 9041 7205 for more details, or if you would like to discuss a conflict within your congregation.

Don’t leave it too late.

Laura Coulter is a member of the Conciliation Panel and Kirkpatrick Memorial Presbyterian Church. Working in the areas of peace-building and mediation for 25 years in Northern Ireland, Laura has recently returned from Nepal where she worked as a mediation advisor for 2 ½ years with United Mission to Nepal.

You can find out more information about PCI’s Conciliation Service here. You might also find these resources helpful on Maintaining Healthy Congregations.

You can also read Mary Porter's blog Conciliation - a biblical service here.

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