Means of Grace, Hope of Glory


The Church’s way of reconciliation and forgiveness

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

This posting is intended to point in a direction that is grounded in the church's way of grace.

Use of authority

We first need to be clear regarding the authority of the priest-in-charge of parishes. Authority is given with a purpose – it is to provide pastoral oversight in the ministry of reconciliation. That’s “the business” we are in – reconciliation. John Macquarrie notes, “What the New Testament – with Christ himself – undoubtable does condemn is the seeking of power and preeminence among Christians, and the exercise of authority in a self regarding way.” Clergy and laity both get angry. They act in abusive ways because they are upset, angry, or afraid. It is very understandable. It’s also wrong. The authority isn’t given so we might indulge our feelings. We are given the ministry of reconciliation. If you can’t find within yourself the Spirit’s nudging you to long for reconciliation; then pursue it out of duty.

That caution about the priest-in-charge is offered because it’s one of the most common ways we go astray. People don’t appreciate us. Don’t understand how hard it is. Don’t realize the pain they cause us. All true at times. And in the face of all that, we are to do the Lord’s business of reconciliation. We are to place the feelings of hurt and anger, of outrage and frustration, on a shelf; we are to acknowledge them, and we are to manage them in such a manner that we may be faithful in our vocation.

Rector's can also end up damaging the parish when they insist on their "right" to do something. For example, most people would recognize the rector's authority in relationship to worship. However, if the rector goes into a traditionally low church parish and starts using incense every Sunday, we all know how that's going to work out. The rector may have the right to do it but by doing it is offending the congregation. When we act in ways that ride roughshod over people we have violated their human dignity. Our canonical or traditional authority isn't a blank check. 

The laity and other clergy who may be in conflict with the rector of a parish are called to obedience, along with their rector: to “first be reconciled,” “to forgive each other,” “seventy-seven times.” In the end, it is the rector, the person in positional and symbolic power and authority, who must be willing to act first and repeatedly, to reach out endlessly, to forgive again and again. If the parish is to show its holiness and unity, their rector needs to be a person of reconciliation.

 The peace and unity of the parish is often the starting place for rectors.  If real peace and unity are to be achieved, even in a limited form, that is done through truth and justice not by command and control. To open oneself and others to the truth in a conflict requires courage and humility. The transparency involved can be confusing and embarrassing.  But upon that truth rests justice.

The parish’s ability to approach conflict in a fair and reasonable manner, to see itself as a community with integrity, depends on its willingness and ability to be truthful. Truthful with kindness and empathy. That begins with the clergy-in-charge.

This is the struggle in a priest's heart between living in the logic of institutionalism and empire verses the logic of Holy Church and the Kingdom.

Four guideposts

At the center are four guideposts; four ways of grace.

1. Timely & quickly

2. Face-to-face and those directly involved

3. Witnesses

4. Forgive

The four rise up out of our life of prayer and the sources of the church’s authority.

First prayer, the depth and congruity of prayer life may have a significant influence on how conflicts are managed.

Second, the sources of authority: Scripture, Tradition, Reason 

Martin Thornton wrote:

Moral action only flows from doctrinal truth by grace and faith, that is through prayer. 

It’s the ancient triangle -of worship, doctrine and action. Three aspects of Christian Life grounding our existence in Grace. We get from truth to moral action not directly but by way of prayer – Eucharist, Office, Personal Devotions (the threefold rule of prayer). They are our bridge into Grace.

Consider the depth and congruity of prayer life – that of the whole parish and also of the individuals involved in the conflict. Are there in the parish a significant number of people who live the threefold rule? Enough of a core to create an identifiable pattern? Enough to create a sense of stability? The threefold rule is the Prayer Book’s pattern of prayer life. The more the parish lives in that pattern, the more there will be a sense of harmony and stability.

Depth, stability and congruence are part of the ground on which a community stands when it faces into disagreements and conflicts. A community in which a significant number knows the Eucharistic experience of oneness with each other and the whole company of heaven; a community that prays the scriptures each day in the Office; a community that is reflective and thoughtful about human responsibility – such a community will manage its conflicts more faithfully.

More directly:


  • A parish that knows the Eucharistic experience of holy love and joy is a parish that knows what true community looks like, will value that life, and want to avoid the kinds of conflict that can destroy it.
  • A parish that reads, marks, learns and inwardly digested the scriptures will have heard the practices of reconciliation and forgiveness as being at the center of Christian life. 
  • A parish that is thoughtful and reflective about human responsibility in daily life will be better equipped to face the times of conflict.



Sources of Authority


So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. (Matthew 5:23-25)

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger (Ephesians 4:26)

Those who say, ‘I love God’, and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. (1 John 4:20)

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. (Matthew 18:15)

But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. (Matthew 18:16-17)

Be on your guard! If another disciple sins, you must rebuke the offender, and if there is repentance, you must forgive. (Luke 17:3)

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.   (Matthew 18:21-22)



When the priest sees that there is hatred between members of the congregation, he shall speak privately to them, telling them that they may not receive Communion until they have forgiven each other. And if the person or persons on one side truly forgive the others and desire and promise to make up for their faults, but those on the other side refuse to forgive, the priest shall allow those who are penitent to come to Communion, but not those who are stubborn.  Disciplinary Rubrics  BCP p. 409

Examine your lives and conduct by the rule of God's commandments, that you may perceive wherein you have offended in what you have done or left undone, whether in thought, word, or deed. And acknowledge your sins before Almighty God, with full purpose of amendment of life, being ready to make restitution for all injuries and wrongs done by you to others; and also being ready to forgive those who have offended you, in order that you yourselves may be forgiven.
And then, being reconciled with one another, come to the banquet of that most heavenly Food.
 The Exhortation BCP p. 317

1 And let the presbyters also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered, caring for all the weak, neglecting neither widow nor orphan nor poor, but "ever providing for that which is good before God and man," refraining from all wrath, respect of persons, unjust judgment, being far from all love of money, not quickly believing evil of any, not hasty in judgment, knowing that "we all owe the debt of sin." 2 If then we pray the Lord to forgive us, we also ought to forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the Lord and of God, and "we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give an account of himself." 3 So then "let us serve him with fear and all reverence," as he himself commanded us, and as did the Apostles, who brought us the Gospel, and the Prophets who foretold the coming of our Lord. Let us be zealous for good, refraining from offense, and from the false brethren, and from those who bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who deceive empty-minded men. -  Polycarp to the Philippians



Reason draws upon the totality of the church’s and humanity’s experience and understanding. In its interaction with scripture and tradition it both interprets them and at the same time is enlarged by them. Reason in this setting is more than rationality and logic. It also calls upon our empathy and imagination in sorting out and deciding on meaning, and on what is moral and what is to be done in a particular situation. Reason is a form of practical wisdom grounded in reality. Our willingness to learn from our experience is an expression of reason.  Robert Gallagher, Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church, pp. 64-65

For our purposes, this means making use of the understandings of organizational psychology and behavior about conflict management. There are two models that are especially useful: “The Relationship Cycle” and “Levels of Conflict.”

After each model are a few ideas about how you might bring-things-together; shape a synthesis that takes into account all the elements in relationship to the particular context.

Copyright Robert A. Gallagher, 1996, 2010, Acknowledgment – this model was in part inspired by “Planned Renegotiation: A Norm-Setting OD Intervention”, John J. Sherwood and John 2018  C. Glidewell, 1971                                                                                                                                                         

A PDF of the Relationship Cycle


Bringing things together

Let’s say that you are facing a parish conflict that is early-days and relatively low level. Say there are a married couple, new parishioners, who want more “upbeat hymns.”  You’re the vicar; you have two concerns. First, “upbeat-hymns” in your experience are emotionally sloppy nonsense that encourage shallow sentimentality. (Not that you have strong feelings about any of this) and second, of the top of your heads you can name ten parishioners who will start using phrases like “happy-clappy.”

Ask yourself a few questions to get a sense of what the “rub” is for these people and what emotions are engaged for you and them.

  • What’s your read on the couple asking? Are they likely to push the matter? Are there others in the congregation with the same views; in which case the issue could grow in numbers and intensity. Are the two people asking your wardens? There are pragmatic concerns you need to think about.  
  • If the matter seems important to the people asking – have you sat down and listened to them? Asked them a few questions about their previous church experience (in a respectful, curious way)?
  • Reflect upon your own feelings.  Are you experiencing anxiety, a desire to avoid this, behavior that suggests you are denying it as possibly important to the couple?


General guidance

  • It’s low level stuff. Talk with them face-to-face. Do it shortly after they mention it. Use it as an opportunity to get to know them better. Maybe listen to them about the music concern; tell them you want to think about it; and ask them if you can interview them on their spiritual life as a way of getting to know them.
  • This isn’t a situation needs forgiveness or witnesses.
  • You want to keep their “rub” over on the green line side of things. Timely, face-to-face listening is likely to help that happen. This issue probably won’t be seen by those involved as a conflict. The reason you need to see it in relationship to conflict dynamics and management is this – if you don’t address it at this stage it may become more serious. And the more serious it becomes the more difficulty managing it.
  • If the parish’s “Agreement” (an unspoken psychological agreement) and its stability includes a certain type of music – you may want to share that with them. Avoid suggesting that this closes the conversation. But if it’s a consideration in your mind – tell them.


                                      LEVELS OF CONFLICT

Based on Speed Leas, "Moving Your Church Through Conflict"

For it to be a system conflict a significant percentage of people, or people with significant influence, need to be upset with the practices/policies/style/person of the current leadership.

A task of leaders is to develop the organization’s capacity to solve problems and manage the “rubs” that are a normal and useful part of organizational life. This allows the organization to be a more productive and satisfying environment while also heading off serious conflict. As part of its life an organization needs to be engaged in a developmental process of building trust, developing communication and negotiating skills, and establishing processes to manage concerns and new ideas. This gives people the ability to keep conflict at the lower levels. As conflict moves to higher levels people tend to resist skill development, elaborate problem solving methods, the introduction of new ground rules, etc. So, these things are best done when the organization is not in conflict.

Level - I Problem to Solve


Objective of those involved:  fix the problem

Tone/behaviors: optimistic, collaborative, problem not person focus, rational; language is clear, specific, here and now, adult; real differences over goals, values, needs, plans, information; people understand each other and disagree.


1. Facilitate decision making by collaborative problem solving, or if not possible, by negotiation, or if not possible, by formal authority action (by voting or leader decision.)

2. Methods -- establish meeting norms, use a facilitator and a disciplined process, brainstorm and prioritize, use communication skills, etc.

Level II Disagreement


Objectives: self protection, not getting hurt; solve the problem

Tone/behaviors: cautious, not hostile; general language to protect people and self, e.g., “there is no trust”, “we need more openness”; hostile humor, distancing comments; withhold information that might serve the other side or damage your side.


1. Reduce tension and facilitate people’s work together --the need here is to keep people close enough to work though their differences and not engage in withdrawal or begin to get aggressive.  Encourage people to “hang in”, attend and prepare for meetings; coach people to act, to be assertive, help people fully express their concerns and to listen to the concerns of others; provide ways to build relationships, ways for people to know each other as people, to speak with each other about common interests and needs.

2. Methods -- role reversal, expectations clarification, paraphrase and itemized response, brainstorm and prioritize, use facilitator, etc.

2. Establish ground rules -- get agreement about how we will work on the issue, e.g., no threats, identify sources of information, direct sharing of differences, no personal attacks, no withdrawing; norms for meetings, etc.

3. Make decisions -- collaborative problem solving ---  negotiation --- formal authority

Level III - Contest


Objective: win, not yet at level of wanting to hurt the opponent.

Tone/behaviors: win/lose dynamics, threatening, difficult, resistance to peace overtures, hanging back waiting for others to show weakness, personal attacks, emotional appeals, limited social contact; language is distorted - overgeneralized (“you always..”, “everyone..”), exaggerated, making a case, expecting magic or rapid change, expecting others to read your mind, extreme, only two sides, lose the shade/gray.


The overall need is to reduce fear and distorted thinking; to provide a sense of order.

1. All the strategies mentioned for Level II, as     possible.

2. Structure the process -- work out a clear process; dates of meetings, time lines, etc. Revise it as needed; but work at maintaining a sense of order and direction. There is a high need for a process that is seen as fair, open, and legal.

3. Use an external consultant

4. Contact between parties to the conflict needs to be carefully managed -- opportunities for people to express feelings and clarify their interests need to be provided for each side; this usually needs to first be done apart from the other side; when they are ready to work together, then have a carefully facilitated meeting.

5. Decision making -- the same sequence as at other levels; however, the more persuasion, compelling and voting the more likely that people will leave the organization.

IV Fight/Flight


Objectives: hurt/get rid of the others; being “right”

Tone/behaviors: factions inflexible, clear lines, strong leaders emerge; language becomes ideological - about principles, truth, rights; parties detached, causing each to lose sense of the pain they cause; attempt to enlist outsides in the cause, parties will not speak with each other, self righteous, cold


More tension will require more structure.

1. Use an external consultant/mediator -- this can not be someone from the central office.

2. Follow the book -- legal issues may be involved, trust is very low; follow the organization’s standards.

3. Communicate through third parties -- seek an agreement for third parties to serve as “go-betweens” to carry messages, look for possible areas of agreement, Most likely to be useful when the issue is clear.

4. Be tougher about the ground rules --enforce expectations about personal attacks, loaded language; might have a group that monitors agreements and gives feedback to violators.

5. Decision making -- likely to be by formal authority. Some are likely to leave.

V Intractable Situation


Objective: destroy the others

Tone/behaviors: attempts to do serious damage to the other’s reputation, position, well being; attempts may continue after the parties have been separated


 - The conflict is no longer manageable.

- Outside authority will need to make difficult decisions.

- The parties need to be separated.

- Some people may need to be asked to leave.

 A PDF of Levels of Conflict 


Bringing things together

We’ll use Speed Leas model to consider a higher-level conflict. Something that in the Relationship Cycle would be called a Blow Out.

First, let’s consider how to assess the level. If one of the parties involved is at that level, that’s the level of the conflict. 

Second, once you see the level you need to set aside your judgements (at least for now.) Yes, people are behaving badly. What’s needed isn’t judgement about that behavior but encouragement to engage the processes that can move the relationship toward healing and reconciliation.

Third, unless action is taken to stabilize the level it is likely to continue to escalate. So, while we are far past not letting the sun go down on our anger, the need to move now in a timely, careful, yet urgent manner is still called for. Face-to face will require external assistance. The witnesses may need to be professionally trained consultants or mediators along with people from the congregation with a high level of emotional intelligence.


For reflection

Change means movement. Movement means friction. Only in the frictionless vacuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. Saul Alinsky

God's love is too great to be confined to any one side of a conflict. Desmond Tutu


PDF of this posting


Abuse of Power: Recent thoughts

The book

We know that some of you are wondering when the abuse of power book will be available. Here’s a story – long ago, around 1995, Ascension Press asked me to write a book on the four core frameworks used in CDI (now Diocesan CDI). They even gave me an advance. In 2001 or so, I returned the advance. I just wasn’t ready. It finally got published in 2008 as Fill All Things: The Dynamics of Spirituality in the Parish Church.

In the MBTI system Michelle Heyne and I are both INFPs. We tend to work in spurts and seek “the perfect.” Makes for slow writing (except for when it doesn’t).

All of which is to say, we are working on four books at the moment. The abuse of power book isn’t at the top of the list. So, maybe 2019; or 2029. As we’ve gotten into it, we’ve realized that we need to do more interviews at all levels of the church system. That will take some time. If that goes on too long we may restore the abuse of power blog.

Note: the picture is John Macquarrie

In the meantime – a few recent thoughts.


I have the right! 

When I was a very new consultant, maybe around 1975, the bishop sent me to do conflict management work with a suburban parish. I was very green. Ordained a priest only 4 years earlier, I was many years the junior of the rector of that parish.

I walked into the room where we were to meet. There was a large table in the center of the room.  Most people were hugging the walls, talking in small groups. Around the table were three members of the vestry. At the head of the table was the rector. His hands rested on a book. As I moved closer to introduce myself, he stood; that’s when I saw the book. It was a copy of the Constitution and Canons. My heart dropped. “Not a good sign” I thought. 

I’ve only had a handful of situations where the rector or vicar tried to address a conflict by asserting his or her rights. In most, things ended poorly for the priest’s position. I hope things were better for the priest’s soul.

When you’re justifying your actions based on the rights of positional authority instead of what’s right to do – you’re probably in trouble.


The seeking of power

From time to time I return to John Macquarrie’s Principles of Christian Theology. Sometimes it’s interesting to see what I underlined, and see the notes placed in the margins. A few weeks ago, I rediscovered the margin note, “abuse of authority.” (quotes on page 430) 

“What the New Testament – with Christ himself – undoubtable does condemn is the seeking of power and preeminence among Christians, and the exercise of authority in a self regarding way.  It might be confessed that there has been plenty of this in the church, and that the experience of it has kindled in some the distrust of what they call “prelacy.”  The Church, after all, is only on its way to holiness, and so sin remains, and even the offices of the church can be used (or rather, abused) By careerists in search of notoriety and power.  Spiritual authority gets confounded with worldly position, and as a result the whole conception of spiritual authority and the offices to which it attaches are brought into disrepute.”


The sin of pride -- universal

Macquarie notes both the universal reality of the sin of pride and how there’s “plenty” of power seeking in the church. True! We have many careerists. Too many clergy who find it difficult to use their authority properly – on behalf of Christ instead of in self-regard. Most are intelligent enough to do a bit of proof texting and rationalization as they excuse their behavior. Very hard to get them to actually have a listen-respond type conversation.

 “But once again, Abusus non tollit usum. The sin of pride which leads to these perversions of the ministerial offices is so universal that in any case the abolition of the offices will not prevent this sin from making its inroads. Even in Christian groups which abhor “prelacy” and pride themselves on the “parity” of their ministers, there is no lack of power politics. Indeed, the game is played even more dangerously, because it depends on invisible pressures, the cult of personalities, and many other hidden factors through which power and authority can be exercised behind the scenes; if there always is the risk of power, surely it is better that it be openly attached to public offices. But the true Christian authority is not this kind of power at all, nor does it feed anyone’s ego. It is an authority that is conferred by Christ. It is not “earned” by the holder of the office nor can it be to him a cause of pride. It is a responsibility laid upon him to be an “ambassador” of Christ and to speak “on behalf of Christ.”(2 Cor. 5:20) The authority belongs to the office, to the church, ultimately to Christ from whom the office has come.”


Checks & Balances

Two news items today caught my attention. Both were related to the increase in autocratic behavior on the part of those in positions of power. We see it on both the left and the right. It’s there in government, industry, education and the church.

Both articles were about people in power attempting to silence and remove difficult people.  Autocrats work at trying to reduce the role and visibility of people who make them uncomfortable.

The first was the story of CNNs Jim Acosta’s struggle with the President over his White House press pass. The second was about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to silence Aleksei Navalny, an opposition politician. Federal judge Timothy Kelly, a Trump appointee, issued a restraining order forcing the White House to restore the press pass. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the Russian government has abused its powers.

All that brought to mind one of the weaknesses in the church’s system to manage abuse. We have no truly independent court system. And we certainly have no reliable way to quickly restrain a leader’s abuse. We lack checks and balances.

How can we reform the system so that truth and justice might be asserted in a timely manner? A wise and independent voice that can call a leader from self-regard and power-seeking to humility and Christ. 



The conversations

Tree of Life, Pittsburgh

I grew up in Philadelphia. Until the row houses were built along Summerville Ave, I could see Har Nebo Cemetery from the front of my house. It was one of the places the kids on my street would play. Not too often because cemeteries were scary. It was a Jewish Cemetery. It was from Mount Nebo that Moses was granted a view of the Holy Land. There’s a tradition that Moses is buried on the mount.

Temple Sholom was a conservative Jewish congregation that was across the street from my childhood parish, the Church of the Messiah. The synagogue was built in 1947.

By law public schools had to read at least ten verses from the Bible, each day, in the classroom. When you got into the upper grades at Carnell the students would select and do the reading. I never once heard a New Testament reading. We gentiles would not be so rude as to impose that upon our Jewish classmates. Psalms 10 and 24 were favorites.

My best friend in Jr. High School was Arnie. We ate lunch together, talked, played in the school yard. Arnie was Jewish, as were most of the kids in the school. 

The man who owned the candy store (cigarettes, candy, ice cream, pin ball machines) on the corner at the end of our street had numbers tattooed on his arm. As did one of my math teachers.

You get the idea.

There is no conversation to be had between anti-Semites and the rest of us. Well, there is a call to repentance and a willingness to help a person turn toward holiness and righteousness.

There is a conversation to be had with people who aren’t anti-Semites themselves but create a climate in which anti-Semitism festers. It’s hard to have the conversation because they can’t see how they are helping shape that climate. The President has a daughter and son-in-law who are Jewish. I’m sure he loves them. In recent years many Episcopalians have supported acts and groups that the overwhelming majority of American Jews see as anti-Semitic. We seem to do that while being quite outraged over some readings from John.

The parish conversation: How might we accept responsibility for the real-life impact of our actions? If we feel called to join calls for Palestinian justice how might we do that in a way that doesn’t end up colluding with Hamas and contribute to an anti-Semitic climate?

Here are a few resources from the Anti-Defamation League 

A definition 

An Index of Global anti-Semitic attitudes  

News article: Comments of Jonathan Greenblatt, Director of the ADL


From PBS - American Anti-Semitism 


Guns in America

What happened in Pittsburgh has rekindled the tribal debate over guns. If you want to help parishioners have a conversation about gun policy in the nation, or their city, you might make use of this week’s issue of Time magazine.

The writer's set out to see if there was any common ground. 

"The gun debate stands frozen in stalemate, advocates unable to agree even on the meaning of words. When one side appeals for “common­sense gun controls,” the other hears only “control.” When some say “law-abiding gun owners,” others only hear “gun.” "

"Even though they may disagree on guns, their opinions are grounded in lived experience and expressed with a sincerity and respect often missing in the national debate."

Articles introducing the project

The project “brought together 245 people from every imaginable vantage point: veterans and teachers, hunters and doctors, people afraid that guns may kill their children and people afraid they won’t have guns to protect their children. They include Lezley McSpadden, whose son Michael Brown was shot dead in Ferguson, Mo., which helped spark the Black Lives Matter movement; members of the trauma team that treated victims of the horrific 2016 sniper attack on Dallas police; House majority whip Steve Scalise, a gun-rights supporter who was critically injured in a shooting at a congressional baseball practice; and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.”

Listen to the video on this page

More background

The Guns in America Project web site

A good place to begin is with the “Hear featured stories” at the bottom of the page. It offers reflective and respectful voices of people whose opinions are grounded in experience.




A stubborn mind 2

Here’s another thought about what can help us clergy with our stubborn minds.                       Part one is here

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.

Our minds are nudged, reshaped, challenged by that pattern of prayer in which we join with the whole church, the quick and the dead, in the adoration of God. We say the psalms until the phrases of righteousness, justice, care for the poor and God’s acceptance of our human limitations and sin, become our own. We hear the scriptures again and again until we have inwardly digested God’s ways. And we pray the Lord’s Prayer and the collects, so they might orient us to Reality – forgive us as we forgive, justice and truth, keep watch, your immeasurable love, awareness of your mercies.

Managing conflict

I’m focusing on conflict for two reasons. First, our stubborn minds are likely to bring on conflict. Our stubbornness generates resentment. It causes us to lose the opportunity to deal with matters when they are relatively simple irritants.

Second, conflict is a part of life toward which most of us take an unproductive stance. We avoid, or we get our-back-up too quickly. The scriptures and tradition may offer more details about what we need to do in conflict than about dealing with poverty and justice or celebrating the Eucharist. Yet we have become very good at side-stepping those norms.

I’ve seen too many rectors behave in one of these ways when faced with conflict. 

  • They place the canons on the table in front of them.
  • They announce that they have spoken with the Bishop (who agrees with them).
  • When asked by their adversaries to meet, they refuse or put it off.
  • They send an email explaining how they had a right to do it and how what they did was the right thing to do.
  • They obsess about something the adversary said or did. Something that shows how confused or bad the adversary is.
  • Add your own.

Stubborn minds. 

Four phases 

I see four phases for managing conflict in the Scripture. The same elements appear in the early church fathers, writers on the spiritual life, and the behavioral science approaches to conflict management.

Timely and quickly

      "Come to terms quickly with your accuser" and "do not let the sun go down on your anger"

Face-to-face and one-on-one

       “go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone.”

Involve others

      “take one or two others along with you"


     “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”


Don't be a literalist with all this. It all needs to be part of your inner life; accessible in the time of need. And, in that time, you will need to adapt, navigate, reflect, consult and decide.

You can learn the phases and norms by reading a bit or going to a conflict workshop. If you’ve done the daily office for twenty years, you’ll have had the wisdom come at you again and again. Frequently, that will happen during a time when you’re busy avoiding or putting on your armor.

Combine that prayer life with workshops that help you understand both a few conflict management models and your own emotional reaction when in conflict. That adds the needed “Reason” element to Scripture and Tradition.

        Use the Search element above to find articles on "conflict" on this web site


One more thing

One more thing. You have to decide to take a stance that orients you to act in obedience. Being the rector of a parish, and doing parish development, isn’t a university discussion group or you offering a few pieces of wisdom. Our mulish and willful minds are to give way to receptivity, humility and responsiveness.

It will come more easily if we decide now to be obedient – timely, face-to-face, witnesses, and kindness.



A stubborn mind

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. They need to understand what parishioners’ value about the parish as it has been over time. They need to learn about and appreciate what the parish has done at its best over the years. They need to understand the ethos of Anglicanism and nurture that in the parish’s culture. They need to love the parish and its people; to see it as a microcosm of the Body of Christ – one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. 

At Morning Prayer

I got onto this during Morning Prayer today. The Office had a reading from Ecclesiasticus. – “stubborn mind” was mentioned twice.

A stubborn mind will fare badly at the end … A stubborn mind will be burdened by troubles (3:26-27)


It went nicely with the second reading from Acts 28

You will indeed listen, but never understand,
   and you will indeed look, but never perceive. 
For this people’s heart has grown dull,
   and their ears are hard of hearing,
     and they have shut their eyes;
     so that they might not look with their eyes,
   and listen with their ears,


Letting go

I’m seventy-four this week. At times I think I’m the same 12 year-old growing up on Augusta Street in Philadelphia -- glad to have friends; playing handball against the factory wall; looking forward to Friday evening with the family, TV and Breyers ice cream. Also, scared, wanting to belong, bored with church, willing to try things and afraid I’d fail, beginning to long for something larger and more significant in life but not knowing what that was. A kid – confused and absolutely certain, timidity with grit.

I think I’ve grown to be less stubborn and more persevering. Slowly, bit-by-bit, measured by decades. I used to say the Creed and want to revise it. Because I knew it didn’t make sense. Now I assume there’s a lot I don’t know and don’t understand. I’m amazed at how much the Church got right. I used to know how to solve the problems of society. Now I accept that sin will not go away and, even so, I’m to fight under His banner. The older I get the more I appreciate Aunt E’s insistence that I be baptized.

I know some of the moments when the shift was in process -- from stubbornness to perseverance. When I wanted a leave-of-absence from seminary (no one did that back then). I wanted to do community organizing. Dean Harris said, ‘You can have the leave. And I want you to know that there’s as much sin in this place as there is out there.”  And a few years later when the field education director stood with me and other seminarians looking out the Refectory windows, and said, “I know that Mr. Gallagher has grown over these years. He’s quieter.”

As the very young vicar of Saint Elisabeth’s, I was proud that we stopped the decline and began to increase in membership; that we became known for serving the neighborhood; and that bishop no longer wanted to close us. What made it possible for me to play a role in all that were the routine of the parish’s daily office and the early moments of humiliation and humility – having parishioners push back on a decision I made about how we would celebrate Easter and crying in front of lay parish leaders, and asking their forgiveness, when I made a serious mistake in how I fired an employee.

In both those examples, being pushed on and the tears, I had to let go of being “right” (it wasn’t easy, and it had to be in that moment, not later after "consideration"), and allow myself to be “one” with these people I hardly knew. I was able to go into my second year with them knowing that we trusted one another, that we were in this together, and what we were “in” was God.

In both cases we worked out a way forward that accomplished what I had sought. In both cases the parishioners ended up affirming what I wanted to do. Those things could happen because they insisted on being heard, and I was willing to listen to them, be responsive to their concerns, and let go of being “right.”

More recently

Cancer helped. 2010 was a year of humiliation, humility and perseverance. A time of Grace. Being stubborn had no place to be.

Benedict wants us to meditate on death. As I age, I find that the opportunities for such meditation comes easily and frequently. Less a discipline, more an awareness.

What else has been helpful for me? I think the part of my temperament drawn to harmony and curiosity has, at times joined with my decision to take a stance of forgiveness – and that causes the stubbornness to ease. Over fifty years of the daily office has helped me return to the awareness of the presence of God, the angels, and the whole company of heaven. For me, it’s a way in which I have been oriented toward God’s perspective and company. Human relations and organization development training gave me concrete skills for listening and shaping listening parishes.

There are parts of your temperament that are gifts of God; there are stances, decisions about attitude, that we can each make such as forgiveness and listening; and there are practices we can learn and engage – that will place us in the pathways of grace. What are the gifts, decisions and practices you need to accept and learn? 

For what it’s worth

I still find myself with a stubborn mind at times, many times. Maybe less than some years ago.

I don’t think I get to abolish the stubborn mind. I do think that God nudges me to be gentle and humble and kind. And, more now than before, I’m a bit more likely to understand and perceive. But just to remind me of how Reality works, God allows my stubborn mind to come forward at times.

For what it’s worth, here is what I learned. I’m not going to get it right all the time. I frequently find myself initially in a stubborn place. What I can trust in, is the One-that-stands-alongside me, the Gentle One, the Humble One -- God will nudge and guide me toward holy perseverance.

Real parish development isn’t possible when you are of a stubborn mind.


A stubborn mind will fare badly at the end. A persevering mind will find joy and true life.



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