Means of Grace, Hope of Glory

Thursday
Feb142019

New and contrite hearts

I started to write about something else. Then I remembered Parkland.

The “something else” will have to wait. Maybe tomorrow.

It happened last year on Valentine’s Day. Otherwise known as Ash Wednesday. Remember how it felt so early?

For me, Ash Wednesday is about death, repentance, and God’s mercy. That’s what I’ll reflect upon today. Not politics, or guns, or fear and anger but death, repentance, and the Mercy.

So, a few reflections.

 

The picture

The picture above is an AP shot of two mothers. It and the story have appeared again as we remember.

Last year it was about two mothers, Cathi Rush and Mechelle Boyle, long time acquaintances. Rush not knowing whether her son was hurt or dead; Mechelle moved by compassion -- “Oh, my God, she doesn’t know if her son is alive or dead. She’s here crying and can’t reach him.”

This year the story is about how each moved in a different direction in response to the shooting.  Boyle, a military veteran who supports gun rights and also wants some restrictions on gun ownership. Rush, a nurse, who wants more gun control laws.          

     A recent article  

 

Kaddish

Sarah Lerner’s story is in the New York Times today. She’s an English and journalism teacher at Stoneman Douglas. Two of her students were killed that day.

“On Rosh Hashana I asked my rabbi if it would be O.K. to say Kaddish, the memorial prayer. I didn’t want to be disrespectful to those whose immediate family member had died. He’s like, ‘Of course it’s appropriate, Sarah. They meant so much to you.’ “       The article  

What caught my attention is that Kaddish, used in mourning, doesn’t mention death or mourning. It’s about G-d.

Here’s a paragraph –

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored, adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen. 

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of American says, “the theme of Kaddish is the greatness of G-d.”  It ends with a paragraph that acknowledges that it is G-d who creates harmony and peace, in the celestial heights and for us.

 

What we as Christians know is this

Action grounded in awe and adoration is our way. We think it holy action. We believe it to be purer action. The stuff of ashes and Kaddish.

I have a friend in the parish who grew up in England. Over the years we’ve spoken a few times about how common it was in England to assume that parish churches would be open in times of national tragedy. That the church’s first act was to be a place of prayer. A community that before it turned to politics turned to God.

It’s what Evelyn Underhill was getting at –

One’s first duty is adoration, and one’s second duty is awe and only one’s third duty is service. And that for those three things and nothing else, addressed to God and no one else, you and I and all other countless human creatures evolved upon the surface of this planet were created. We observe then that two of the three things for which our souls were made are matters of attitude, of relation: adoration and awe. Unless these two are right, the last of the triad, service, won’t be right. Unless the whole of your...life is a movement of praise and adoration, unless it is instinct with awe, the work which the life produces won’t be much good. 

 

Parish development

Sound parish development shapes congregations so they might better root people in the reality of how things truly work. Root people in God. Help them know that the first and second duties are adoration and awe; and after that service and action. That before we turn to solving all the problems we turn to the Merciful and Compassionate One. We acknowledge our sin and wickedness. We seek a “clean heart” and “right spirit.”

Open my lips, O Lord, *

And my mouth shall proclaim your praise. (Ps 51) 

 

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Wednesday
Feb132019

Habits are like muscles 

Habits are like muscles; they get stronger with repeated exercise. You force yourself to do something the first time. You force yourself the second and the third and the fourth. And then, with each subsequent effort, there’s less force required. What was intense effort becomes unthinking reflex or at least something close to that. You just have to trust in that trajectory at the outset.   Frank Bruni, a New York Times columnist

Bruni’s insight is at the heart of good parish development work. And it's very, very difficult for intuitives (N) who always seem to seek something new and different. And in the Episcopal Church the clergy are mostly intuitives. A new vision each year. A new project or program every few months.

In the Parish Development Clinics of the Order of the Ascension we help clergy understand ways to increase communal and individual proficiency in spiritual practices and parish listening processes.

We work on methods for taking counsel, for the parish to develop the habits of listening, developing trust in one another, and creating internal commitment to the common life and work. We provide ways to train and guide people in the spiritual practices of the daily office, Eucharist and personal devotions/reflection.

And we raise with all these visionary, driven priests, the need to repeat, repeat, repeat. If you want to offer entertainment – no need to repeat things, in fact it will work against you.

If you want to help people develop Christian proficiency, to establish a prayerful core at the center of parish life, and to do something that will last beyond your time with this congregation – you need to be repetitious. You need to use the same method again and again so the community or some sub unit in the community begin to own it. You need to offer the same program in saying the Daily office every year, knowing that each time there will only be a few participants. But over time you will take the parish into a more prayerful life.

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Tuesday
Feb122019

What to do with the priest associates?

This is offered to rectors and other clergy-in-charge trying to figure out how best to make use of the odd collection of priests who have attached themselves to the parish. They might earn a living as teachers, doctors, or cabbies. They may be employed by the church on a bishop’s staff or chaplaincy with no Sunday duties. Some may want to participate in parish life in the same manner as any baptized person; others might seek a priestly volunteer role. The last are called priest associates in many parishes. There are unban parishes with numerous priest associates.

What is a priest associate?

They are often retired priests or clergy who earn their living in an institution other than the church. A priest associate serves the parish in a volunteer capacity. Often they will move between the priest associate role and simply being another person in the congregation.

Our experience

Robert’s been a priest associate in four parishes in the years since his primary work became church consulting and training. For the most part it’s been a good experience. That usually involved a mid-week Eucharist, preaching occasionally on Sunday, some adult formation work, and being an informal advisor to the rectors. 

He’s also had priest associates when he was a vicar in three inner city parishes.  As a consultant and a diocesan staff person he’s observed how other clergy-in-charge have approached there being other non-staff priests in the parish.

Michelle has been an adult parishioner in three congregations, with five different rectors, observing the work of twelve priest associates. In her consulting and training work, and as the Presiding Sister of the Order of the Ascension, she's also observed the dynamics and seen how different clergy respond to often-similar situations.  

  

So, a few reflections

How is this related to parish development?

The most obvious connection is that priest associates expand the parish’s capacity. You can increase the number of mid-week celebrations by assigning a day and time to the priest (say every Thursday at noon) or if you have several priest in that role you might create a rota. Some of them might be willing to help as part of Daily Office teams. They could be asked to take on specific, though limited, roles such as managing the mid-week schedule or offering an adult formation program or serving at the Sunday Eucharist from time-to-time.

The most essential thing isn’t about providing a retired priest with an altar out of some benevolence of the rector. Often, these priests come with skills and knowledge you may lack. How might you make use of them?

As rector, or vicar, you need all the wisdom you can get. If you have other priests in the parish with more, or different, experience than your own – make use of that. They may have ways of deepening parish spirituality (including simply by being available for more Masses, participating in the Office, and hearing confessions), know something about processes for increasing trust and internal commitment, and otherwise offer perspective you may not have.

In any case, it will be good for your soul to listen to them. Listening to priests with different experience –including those who actually know more than you do – is good practice for learning about your own blindside, and for remembering that you are not responsible for being all things to all people.  You do not need to know everything. We all, though, need to develop a better sense of what we're good at and what we're not, what's essential, and what's not.  If you are lucky enough to have skilled, experienced priests in your parish who will tell you the truth, take that as the gift it is.  

One form of listening would be to gather the other priests two or three times a year for dinner. There certainly needs to be a social element to the time together. You will also benefit from a somewhat formal time of “taking counsel.” It’s up to the rector to focus that discussion. We’d suggest that at least once per year it be a broad open-ended conversation – “Let’s go around the table. I’d like to hear what you see of the Holy Spirit’s work in the parish. Then let’s just talk with one another.”  On another occasion the rector might ask for the group’s thinking about something specific going on in the parish’s life – “I’m being pressured by a few people to stop doing ____ or to start doing ____.” Or “We’ve had a security issue during the week with non-parishioners showing up at the office demanding money or other forms of assistance that we’re not able to respond to.”

Avoid making the time together administrative, e.g., working out the rota, discussing the customary. If there’s a need to involve others in thinking about those matters make it a business type meeting. Maybe Saturday for an hour.


Willing & Able


But what if the priest is just not up to it?

Then talk with the priest. Have an honest conversation. Raise that possibility. She probably already is aware of her limitations. Robert knows that he can’t navigate the steps around the altar in the primary liturgical space. He could manage preaching. He could celebrate in the chapel. But …

Ask the priest what she’s willing to do

For example, Robert doesn’t want to be on a preaching rota, or to do anything on Sunday except be at the Eucharist. He doesn’t want to be on a mid-week rota either, though he’s glad to fill in at the last minute. For the last few years he’s been focused on writing, tending the formation program of the Order of the Ascension, and just a bit of consulting. Occasionally, he’s been surprised at how some younger clergy think they know what he wants without asking, and stunned by how persistent they can be in their certainty.  Not every priest sees themselves as being called to function in the same manner they may have at other times.

Other priests long for the altar. It’s hard-wired in them. They experience something missing if they don’t preside from time to time. It would certainly be a kindness for you as rector to invite that priest to function on occasion. In fact, you could ask them if they’d like to have a regular practice. Fr. Harris, a long-retired rector, took the Wednesday 9:30 Mass at St. Elisabeth’s for many years and Jack Hardwick presided at the 7:30 mass at St. Mark’s every Tuesday before walking over to diocesan house where he was part of the bishop’s staff. 

If you are a retired or non-stipendiary priest in a parish

Notice where you think your gifts could best be put to use. Then tell the rector how you'd be willing to help. It's 101 that you want to avoid being a source of dissension.  Try to limit your feedback to the rector to information he or she has asked for. If you see something you're really concerned about, and the rector hasn't asked for your opinion, reflect on how important it is. If you decide to proceed, ask the rector if you can share some thoughts.  If the rector agrees, consider whether it would be best communicated face-to-face. If the rector doesn't want to hear it, you need to work at accepting that gracefully.  You may want to gently bring the issue up again later if you see an opportunity, but mainly focus on your own spiritual life and pray for the parish and for the rector.   

Beware of attempts to triangulate you, as well as your own tendency to want to be triangulated because it feels like you're part of the action. On the other hand, you can help collapse destructive triangles and facilitate healthy communication by offering to help a distressed parishioner talk to the rector instead of carrying the message yourself. And you can sometimes help the rector reflect more carefully on his own reactivity and assumptions.


But what if the former rector wants to stay in the parish and celebrate on occasion?

These things do test our maturity and humility, don’t they? 

There are certainly cases where the former rector is interfering in parish issues, fomenting dissent, and otherwise sabotaging the rector's authority.  When this happens, it should not be tolerated (though sometimes we jump to inaccurate conclusions - have an actual face-to-face conversation with the former rector about your concerns BEFORE you restrict his functioning. Try to work it out before acting in ways likely to be seen as hurtful and even abusive.) But we also shouldn't assume that former rectors will do this - usually, they love the parish, they want to be retired, and they still have gifts they can offer. All our rules about restricting the former priest are mostly about our fears and need for control, not about grace or wholeness. 

Sometimes the rector may feel uncomfortable because the former priest was particularly beloved, or had left such a significant mark on the parish. Perhaps there had been tremendous growth during that rector's tenure, or special development of a new parish-based ministry. It can feel hard to know how to make changes without causing offense. It can be hard to feel like you're making your own mark. 

A first step may be to ask yourself what's going on with you if this is about "making your mark."

We would suggest a more fruitful approach based in appreciating what already is. Are there elements of the former priest's belovedness that could continue to enrich parish life?  If he's a great preacher, let him continue to preach on some basis (assuming he wants to). The congregation needs to hear great preaching and you could see if he would help you improve your own.  Of course, if you're both great preachers, more the better.

As for changes, are you looking to make them because you think you have to?  Is it change for the sake of change? Is it about your restless soul?  Are you trying to prove your value to the parish and other clergy? Let that go!

A better course is to steadily improve and harmonize what's already working. If the former priest is like most of the priests we know, she doesn't think she achieved perfection. She might even offer good insight about things to focus on.  If you do need to change things that were important to the former rector, talk about it with her, listen to her, talk with others, reflect on whether you're doing the right thing, and then proceed based on your best judgment.  For major changes, you always need to move cautiously and competently. Doing so involves a lot more than the former priest. 


Our maturity and humility

For Robert, the best experiences as a priest associate have been with rectors who know themselves; are comfortable in their own skin. For Michelle, priest associates have often been able to provide a focus on spiritual depth that works well with the rector's general oversight. They also just add some diversity of style and approach that makes the parish a more interesting place and helps alleviate some of the rector's sense of isolation.

A secondary element is a stance the rector takes.  A stance that is not about controlling the vocation and gifts of others, lay or clergy, but to appreciate, nurture, and make use of those gifts. If the person is in your parish begin with the assumption that God has made that so. Of course, you may discover otherwise. 

Start from a place of generosity and collaboration, grounded in the existing strengths of the parish, and how other priests in the parish can help you develop and deepen them.


Michelle Heyne, OA  Presiding Sister & Robert Gallagher, OA

Tuesday
Feb052019

They managed to stay civil

If you clear the ice and snow from your sidewalk – you’re a good person; if not, you’re a bad person. 

We have had snow in Seattle. It’s rare. But it happens. More frequently than earthquakes, less frequently than electing a progressive to City Council.

Yesterday I stayed home. No trips to Ladro for coffee. Today I missed Morning Prayer at the parish. It just seemed too dark and icy out there. At 74 and with shaky legs I am working on not being stupid – as in attempting to walk on icy sidewalks.

By noon I was getting a bit stir crazy. That this was my experience after just 1 ½ days stuck in my apartment suggests I should also avoid committing a crime and going to prison.

So, out I ventured. I carefully weaved my way along the few inches of cleared pathway; I dangerously jaywalked across the street when all was ice in front of me and I could see dry cement on the other side; and when such escapes were not possible I’d walk on the curb strip (the usage common both to Washington and New Jersey, in other regions called a berm, grassplot, snow shelf, or best of all in parts of Ohio, a devil strip).

While walking the four blocks to Café Ladro I made moral judgments based on clearing the snow and ice – my coop is purer than the condos next store. The sidewalk down 2nd Avenue was totally clear. But that gets the sun, so no moral benefit was given the property owners there. But the apartment building at Roy and 2nd had completely cleared the walk. Of all people in the four blocks they were the most blessed.

We all have an inner Pharisee – more interested in the speck in the eye of others than the beam in our own eye. Or maybe it’s just me.

The ice will melt. That will allow me to return to my true calling of judging the drivers breaking the law at Roy and Queen Anne. They are trying to kill me so I will judge them!

You get the idea.

 

Red flags at home

There’s an article in the New York Times about experts in conflict resolution shifting their attention from oversees to America. “They Have Worked on Conflicts Overseas. Now These Americans See ‘Red Flags’ at Home.” The quotes below are from that piece unless otherwise noted.

The story focuses on Paula Green who has worked in Bosnia and Rwanda. She’s learned a few things from those experiences. Here are a few that we of the Church might make use of.

 

They are evil

“People are making up stories about ‘the other’ — Muslims, Trump voters, whoever ‘the other’ is,” she said. “‘They don’t have the values that we have. They don’t behave like we do. They are not nice. They are evil.’”

It’s not a new problem –

“your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:5) 

A few gentle sermons every year around the theme might prove useful. Help us get a bit of perspective and humility.  We need to recognize our inner Pharisee if we are to be healed and find real communion with others.

We are all “under the Mercy.” We are saved by Grace.

 

Face-to-face

The article highlights a meeting lead by Paula Green between people from Kentucky and others from Massachusetts. Republicans with guns and Democrats without; Trump supporters and New England liberals.

Prior to the meeting a participant from Massachusetts explained why he was coming, he wanted to understand “how rural white voters could possibly support such a vulgar, dystopian presidential candidate.”  An educational administrator from Kentucky said she cried when she read the man’s email. “But she didn’t take offense and decided to make the 15-hour trip in a van to Massachusetts to explain to people there that while some might have been mad starting in 2016, she had been mad for most of her life.”

At the beginning the people from Massachusetts approached it as a project. At least that’s how the Kentucky people experienced it. A community health researcher from Kentucky said, “They had such desperation … They are very well educated and I think they’ve always been confident that they’ll just carry people along with their way of thinking. And suddenly, when it didn’t happen, they didn’t hardly know what to do.”

Just getting people face-to-face is absolutely necessary. In this story the process seems rather direct. Those who were willing came together. Each side with narratives about themselves and the people they were to meet with. It may be useful to note that people didn’t change their views because of the meeting. Though many may have been changed by the meeting.

For we who are of the Church, we who are to love our enemies, the first expression of that love may be to quickly get face-to-face with those we are in conflict with. Not waiting for the kind of love based on feelings and comfort but love based on a stance, a decision, and on the grace of courage.

 

Profound listening

Once people feel heard, their dignity had been acknowledged and the facts of their lives taken seriously, it is easier to take on harder topics like politics. – Paula Green

Green’s starting place with the group was to have them talk about their families – “everybody has one.” She used a standard listening method. They all sat in a circle spoke one at a time, with no interruptions.

You do need some competence to facilitate the work of reconciliation. There are a mix of attitudes, values and skills required. The methods used with competence and humility can at times make space for something holy to take place.

In this case one of the women from Kentucky said, “I think we all expected it to be a lot harder than it was, … I really learned that no matter how differently we think or vote, if we take a moment to see the other person for who they are, as somebody with a family and a story, that made the hard stuff easier.”

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The article

“They Have Worked on Conflicts Overseas. Now These Americans See ‘Red Flags’ at Home.”


Postings on conflict 

When people get together face to face rather than on Facebook, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, their differences become occasions for grace and truth  to burst forth. In making sense of it, I drew on my training. Conflict is Augustinian; conflict is nothing but disordered desire
The parish conflict has moved to level 4 or 5 . There have been blow ups and people are moving among the standard options -- terminate ("I have to get out of this place," withdraw (emotionally, physically - "It's just too painful"), fantasize ("can't we just go back to the way it was?"). 

 

Grumbling can fester and grow into conflict in the parish community. The small irritations can be indulged and become a fight. What wisdom can we find from Saint Benedict? 

 

It's difficult to manage a parish conflict when too many people are taking side trips. Side trips are flights from the actual situation in front of us.

 

 Conflict at any level rises out of a competition. Two groups or two individuals each wanting something that is in competition with the needs or wants of the other. This is true at all levels of conflict whether we just have a problem to solve or we face an intractable situation. 

 

This is offered in gratitude for the work of Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Benedict of Nursia. Assessments such as this are not for the purpose of defining reality or making judgments. They are best used to begin structured and disciplined forms of parish conversations.

 

Severe parish conflicts tie up the time and energy of bishops and their staffs while destabilizing the life and ministry of parishes. 

 

The parish had a major conflict several years ago. People left. The rector resigned. Friends were on opposite sides. It was awful! Attempts to “talk about it” have generally resulted in a reactivation of all the feelings and positions that existed during the dispute. 
Real parish development isn’t possible when you are of a stubborn mind. Parish development efforts require leaders who are adaptable while at the same time holding firm to the parish’s identity and integrity. 

 

Here’s another thought about what can help us clergy with our stubborn minds. Allow yourself to start with the assumption that you are to be obedient. And the starting place for that is to do the daily office for 20 years. 

 

What is the church’s way when facing conflict? Is there a pathway of faithfulness we can use to guide us? 

 

Rectors make decisions all the time that don’t satisfy everyone. And healthy priests and healthy parishes don’t spend excessive energy re-visiting those decisions or trying to get consensus. This is one more area where there’s not a simple answer.

 

There are a number of skills and methods that are useful when you're trying to have more collaboration and/or to reduce the level of conflict in the parish. Collaboration is probably the hardest style to use because it requires more skill and emotional intelligence than other styles.

 

There’s a model of conflict styles that looks at two dimensions – the extent of cooperativeness and the degree of assertiveness. 

 

Collaborating has costs. It requires a lot of time and energy. And that means the parties involved need to have the willingness to engage in structured conversations. We need to be willing to work face-to-face with those we disagree with and to listen to them.

 

Always There will always be grumbling in the parish. Always. I suspect that the reason Saint Benedict wrote so much about grumbling was because there was so much of it in the monastic community. I doubt Benedict ever believed it would stop. 
Monday
Feb042019

Occasions for grace and truth to burst forth

When people get together face to face rather than on Facebook, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, their differences become occasions for grace and truth to burst forth. In making sense of it, I drew on my training. Conflict is Augustinian; conflict is nothing but disordered desire, and desire is what moves the stars. The desire between the different persons of the Trinity -- the perfect self-giving love -- is what brought everything into being - Michael Gulker

 

 

Reconciliation means getting face-to-face with your adversary.

It’s basic stuff. If we keep running from those we disagree with there is no reconciliation. If we refuse to engage and come to terms quickly, before the sun goes down, there is no reconciliation.

I’ve come across too many priests of the church who now attempt to justify their conflict avoidance. Some in regard to the divisions in the congregation over politics and culture. Others in situations that are more personal where they are parties to the conflict.  The avoidance may be grounded in personal self-righteousness, or lack of competence in conflict management and reconciliation, or fear and discomfort.

This morning’s e-news from Alban at Duke Divinity School included a Faith & Leadership article “Conflict and Christian discipleship” on Michael Gulker’s Colossian Forum approach to conflict.

Here are a few ideas from the article 

Be willing to be wrong together

We confess that all things hold together in Christ, not because of something we did, but because of something that has already been done, and we get to participate in that. To do that well, we know that we have to pray. We have to meditate on the Scriptures, together, across our differences. We need to have a good knock-down, drag-out fight and then come before God and see how we did. 

This is The Colossian Way. It’s coming together to worship and be honest and be willing to get it wrong together. As Stanley Hauerwas said, we worship a God that forgives, so we can tell the truth about our lives.

We can get it wrong. We can tell the truth about when we get it wrong because when we do, we can confess our sins and God is glorified. People have forgotten this. They forget it the moment they walk into a conflict. So to simply remind people of that is gospel. You can watch them light up and taste the gospel. They’ve forgotten it.
 

Conflict is nothing but disordered desire

Conflict is Augustinian; conflict is nothing but disordered desire, and desire is what moves the stars. The desire between the different persons of the Trinity -- the perfect self-giving love -- is what brought everything into being.

When that self-giving love gets disordered, it becomes selfish, self-protective, wounded. That’s what conflict is, but conflict is still desire and energy and love of God, however confused. So if you can walk into a conflict knowing that your love needs to be reordered and so does the other person’s, it becomes the opportunity for discipleship.
 

Opportunity for Christian virtues

Relationships take time, and if you’re going to engage someone you disagree with over time, you have to cultivate things like patience, humility, gentleness and forbearance. Those are the marks that Paul talks about as worthy of the calling we have in Christ. This is what that life looks like. You don’t cultivate those virtues hanging out with people you agree with. 

What practices help?

And then the next stage is to engage the wicked problem, the adaptive challenge -- the really complicated thing that we’re divided over. And we try to bring the best scholarship and Christian theology into play and pick one facet of the problem and fight like crazy.

If you do that, recognizing that the other is your brother or sister in Christ created in the image of God, then that difference between the two of you is one of different modes of pursuing God. I may think you’re wrong or driving the church off the cliff, but I recognize your goodwill and intent to be faithful, and [you] likewise, the same for me.

I can then be held accountable by you to say, “OK, you believe X. You’re going to have to show me how X leads to a deeper love of God and neighbor, because from where I’m sitting, that doesn’t work.”
 

          A Faith & Leadership article “Conflict and Christian discipleship” 

rag+

 

Postings on conflict 

When people get together face to face rather than on Facebook, with the invocation of the Holy Spirit, their differences become occasions for grace and truth  to burst forth. In making sense of it, I drew on my training. Conflict is Augustinian; conflict is nothing but disordered desire
The parish conflict has moved to level 4 or 5 . There have been blow ups and people are moving among the standard options -- terminate ("I have to get out of this place," withdraw (emotionally, physically - "It's just too painful"), fantasize ("can't we just go back to the way it was?"). 

 

Grumbling can fester and grow into conflict in the parish community. The small irritations can be indulged and become a fight. What wisdom can we find from Saint Benedict? 

 

It's difficult to manage a parish conflict when too many people are taking side trips. Side trips are flights from the actual situation in front of us.

 

 Conflict at any level rises out of a competition. Two groups or two individuals each wanting something that is in competition with the needs or wants of the other. This is true at all levels of conflict whether we just have a problem to solve or we face an intractable situation. 

 

This is offered in gratitude for the work of Saint Clement of Rome and Saint Benedict of Nursia. Assessments such as this are not for the purpose of defining reality or making judgments. They are best used to begin structured and disciplined forms of parish conversations.

 

Severe parish conflicts tie up the time and energy of bishops and their staffs while destabilizing the life and ministry of parishes. 

 

The parish had a major conflict several years ago. People left. The rector resigned. Friends were on opposite sides. It was awful! Attempts to “talk about it” have generally resulted in a reactivation of all the feelings and positions that existed during the dispute. 
Real parish development isn’t possible when you are of a stubborn mind. Parish development efforts require leaders who are adaptable while at the same time holding firm to the parish’s identity and integrity. 

 

Here’s another thought about what can help us clergy with our stubborn minds. Allow yourself to start with the assumption that you are to be obedient. And the starting place for that is to do the daily office for 20 years. 

 

What is the church’s way when facing conflict? Is there a pathway of faithfulness we can use to guide us? 

 

Rectors make decisions all the time that don’t satisfy everyone. And healthy priests and healthy parishes don’t spend excessive energy re-visiting those decisions or trying to get consensus. This is one more area where there’s not a simple answer.

 

There are a number of skills and methods that are useful when you're trying to have more collaboration and/or to reduce the level of conflict in the parish. Collaboration is probably the hardest style to use because it requires more skill and emotional intelligence than other styles.

 

There’s a model of conflict styles that looks at two dimensions – the extent of cooperativeness and the degree of assertiveness. 

 

Collaborating has costs. It requires a lot of time and energy. And that means the parties involved need to have the willingness to engage in structured conversations. We need to be willing to work face-to-face with those we disagree with and to listen to them.

 

Always There will always be grumbling in the parish. Always. I suspect that the reason Saint Benedict wrote so much about grumbling was because there was so much of it in the monastic community. I doubt Benedict ever believed it would stop.