Conflict is a natural part of life in the church, as it is in any situation where people come together. In fact we shouldn’t be surprised, Jesus tells us ‘In this world you will have trouble’ (John 16:33) and in Matthew 18:15-17 He gives us an example of conflict in a local church setting.
We all bring our different personalities, life experiences, ways of doing things, varying theological perspectives and so on into church. Not everyone will agree with us, but what can make our experience of conflict positive or negative, is how we respond to it.
Why have a Conciliation Service?
The Conciliation Service has two core purposes:
To provide support in situations of conflict within congregations and
To offer training around understanding conflict, finding effective and positive responses, and developing skills/processes around decision making, managing change and living with difference.
People speaking directly to each other, with honesty and kindness, can resolve most disagreements. However, sometimes this is just too difficult and we need to invite others to help – this is where the Conciliation Service can come in. Members of the Service are trained volunteers who work with a supervisor throughout any conciliation process.
What happens during a conciliation process?
Two conciliators work alongside those involved in the dispute helping them to work through the particular issue and facilitating conversations to support finding a creative and positive way forward together.
Before this happens, the conciliators will meet separately with those involved to hear about their experience and perspective, to explain the process and to assess whether the situation is suitable for conciliation. Conciliation, which is a confidential process, is useful for anyone.
Any individual (or group) who recognises that there is an issue between them and someone else within the church, which needs to be worked through can access the service. They do, however, need to be willing to work with the other person/group to find a way forward and genuinely desire to restore the broken relationship.
How do I ask for help?
The important thing is to ask for help as early as possible – try not to leave it until the situation has become entrenched, bitter and is impacting an increasing number of people. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness or failure, but rather a sign of wisdom, strength and a desire to find ways to love one another as Jesus commands us to do.
As a first step, you can contact your clerk of presbytery, or you can contact the Conciliation Service Co-ordinator directly at Assembly Buildings in Belfast on +44 (0) 28 9041 7205.
The story in the video below highlights the work of the Conciliation Service through the experience of two Presbyterian elders. They talk about some of the principles they learned from a specific situation and the involvement of the Conciliation Service. It is taken from a series called Christ's Heart of Compasion.
Session Five // Christ's Heart of Compassion from Presbyterian Church in Ireland on Vimeo.
What about accessing training?
Conciliation Service courses are available to any leaders, or groups, within congregations or presbyteries. They can be booked through the Conciliation Service Co-ordinator. Training can be tailored to your specific context and need. They are free of charge, and can be delivered as a workshop (2-3 hours) or a longer course (a full day or more).
The Conciliation Service exists to be a resource to the church. If you need to please do make use of us!
Mary Potter is convener of the Conciliation Panel and is a member of Harmony Hill Presbyterian Church in Lisburn. She has worked in Community Relations for the past 20 years and is a qualified mediator and group facilitator/trainer.
You can find out more information about PCI’s Conciliation Service here. You might also find helpful these resources on Maintaining Healthy Congregations.