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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?").

Lines have been drawn. Positions stated and misunderstood by the opponents. Informal contact reduced, maybe non existent. Outside parties are being drawn into the fight--Bishop's, parishioners, maybe even the newspaper [At the General Theological Seminary - students, alumni, PB, Episcopal Cafe, the New York Times]

Within months people leave, reputations suffer, the financial situation worsens, attendance declines, potential members step away. Maybe we try mediators or arbitrators. Even, lawyers!!  


Some stay emotionally focused on how what they have done is right and how the opponents are wrong. A few find themselves aware of the long term damage that's about to take place. All have moments of thinking about the miserable months, and possibly years, ahead in which their time and energy will be tied up in this struggle. And then there are the confused and confusing voices -- "just sit down and talk," "can't we all get along," "what did they think would happen if they behaved this way." The sentimental, the cynical, the victims, the passive, the outraged all get on stage.

Is there anything that can be done?

The need is to quickly ratchet down the conflict level. As it stands now the cost is too high and the dynamics too unmanageable. If that can be done the range of options for conflict management will increase. It still may not have the desired result. We don't get to have all that much control when conflict is this severe. The issue before us is more --"Is there anything we can do at this stage?"


1. A clear, meaningful gesture 

Restore a practice that has symbolic important for your opponent. Remove a sanction that you inflicted upon your opponent. You don't have to apologize or explain. Public statements are likely to be self serving -- "see how open and humble we are." Don't call a press conference. Don't appoint the priest associate, not even a bishop, to "listen" to the all the anxious and fearful people.


[At GTS -- Faculty - go to chapel today and tomorrow. Just join in the common life to that extent. Dean - restore the old chapel schedule beginning Monday. Board president - tell the dean to do it!  Or do something else that is an action, a changed behavior, not just another statement]


2. Take a stance of humble assertiveness.

The task is to move emotionally and mentally into a new stance. You are trying to maintain perspective; that's not easy to do when you are angry, hurt, resentful and feel under attack. The situation requires both a willingness to assert your position with its legitimate claims and insights and at the same time consider the impact of your words and actions on the opponent in light of the Gospel and the long term well being of the people touched by the conflict.


It may help to seek guidance as you try to access your capacity for empathetic firmness. You need to consider the likely impact of your statements on your opponents. That may be difficult (impossible) for you to do on your own. Have the person you are looking to for guidance review actions, statements, sermons, and e-mails you are considering. If you can bring yourself to do this you may at least stop bringing gasoline to the fire.


3. Offer a new proposal 

Ignore the last offensive proposal of the opposition and the excessive demands of your own last proposal. Do something like what was done in the Cuban Missile Crisis. Ignore some of what the opponent offered. Don't respond to that because you know it will be unproductive. Move to a position that might have a chance of being received. 


[At GTS -- The Board says - "Yes let's meet. Here is the team we have appointed." The Faculty responds -"We are glad to meet with the team." Or reverse the order of taking initiative. The best possible action would be for the offers to cross in e-mail messages.]


But what if it doesn't work?

Then you are back to the mediators, arbitrators and attorneys. 

The reality of conflict is that we don't get to control it. We may be able to manage it to some degree if we have the needed mix of wisdom, humility, and competence. Maybe. 

The psalmist offers perspective (78)

38 But he was so merciful that he forgave their sins
and did not destroy them; *
    many times he held back his anger
    and did not permit his wrath to be roused.
39 For he remembered that they were but flesh, *
    a breath that goes forth and does not return.


We're human. We share in sin and human limitation. We often get it wrong. God is merciful.




Also on conflict

Ways of dealing with conflict

The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life: Part Two - From Hostility to Hospitality

Conflict Management Workshop 2015