New York Conference Mediation Team
By Rev. David Gregory & Rev. Dr. Marsha Williams
One of the better-kept secrets of the New York Conference is the existence of our very own Mediation Team. It’s time we had a chat about it.
Several years ago our Conference leadership recognized that sometimes relationships within local congregations often become strained. These difficulties can arise between pulpit and pew, or even pew to pew. There’s an old saying: “Where two or three are gathered, there will be conflict.” While not exactly biblical, this is a true statement nonetheless.
Conflicts and disagreements are actually a healthy part of life within any community. However, it is vital that congregational conflicts be addressed and resolved, so a church can move forward in healthy ways. When left unchecked, conflict can fester and cause hurt feelings and communication breakdowns. When unresolved conflict is present, justice and outreach ministries grind to a halt and sometimes the very existence of the church is at stake.
While some congregations choose to hire professional mediators and counselors to guide them, during times of difficulty, this is not always an affordable option for all. For others, such resources do not exist within their communities, or maybe churches just don’t know how to find them. Still there are other congregations who are reluctant to seek help for fear of being stigmatized or seen as “airing their church’s dirty laundry.” While this is understandable, no church needs to wallow in the despair of unresolved conflict. Help is available.
In 2012, two representatives from each Association of the New York Conference, attended a one week training session in Conflict and Mediation Skills presented by the Mennonite Peace Center of Lombard, IL. Each of your representatives was carefully trained in the philosophies and techniques of dispute mediation. Many hours were spent in learning system theories, developing active listening skills and participating in role-playing and critical thinking exercises.
The happy result is that churches in the New York Conference no longer need to struggle to find help in times of conflict. There is a team of well-trained people ready to step up and assist your church. For everyone’s comfort and benefit, team members from outside your specific Association would be assigned to walk alongside your congregation in working through any area of conflict or major disagreement.
Yes, there is a minimal cost for team member’s travel expense, but it is a fraction of what is often required by outside firms, and these are people who have a deep love and understanding of the history and polity of the United Church of Christ. Further, scholarship funds are available so that no congregation in need of assistance will be turned away.
If you think your church could benefit from the skills of our trained mediators, please contact. Associate Conference Minister Rev. Dr. Marsha Williams, at firstname.lastname@example.org or any member of the Conference staff. This is an excellent opportunity to break the patterns of the past and create a healthy starting place for an expanded sense of energy and purpose within your congregation. The Mediation Team is here for you.