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. So, the parish has settled into a norm of not having any conversation about what happened.
Don’t talk about it
There’s little value in opening old wounds, experiencing the pain anew, having feelings of anger and resentment toward other parishioners — when that’s all there is. No learning, no insight, no forgiveness, just rehashing. What’s the point?
Reestablishing the old battle lines has little value. Of course one way of talking about the conflict and avoiding that is to blame people not currently in the parish — the bishop, the diocese, the former rector, and the people that left. We can always displace responsibility.
Parish’s settle into a habit of not talking about the past conflict for good reasons.
Talk about it
But what if we can learn better ways to manage tensions and disagreements? What if talking about it can help us do better in the future?
A few guidelines. It is generally useful to reflect on the conflict:
- After time has passed
- In a disciplined, structured process
- Making use of models and theory to assist our understanding
- By dealing with a small piece at a time
- Using an experienced, trained consultant
In a recent consultation it took a vestry 30 minutes to agree to spend another 30 minutes in a disciplined reflection on a past parish conflict. That’s not uncommon. It’s also not a mistaken instinct on the vestry’s part. Sorting out when to talk about a past conflict and when to avoid talking about it is reasonable. What leaders and consultants need to help vestry’s do is see it as a free choice. It’s not healthy when the discussion is avoided out of habit. If the conditions are right it’s possible for parish leaders to reflect and in that reflection process learn better ways.