All congregations experience conflict. While many people’s stomachs knot up at the idea of conflict, conflict itself is not bad. Actually, conflict can present great opportunities for creativity, growth and transformation. How we handle conflict is the key. If conflict is dealt with in covenantal relationships and healthy processes are used, conflict can be a catalyst for exciting change.
Transformation begins with knowing when, and whom to ask for help. It is better to get help sooner rather than later. Unacknowledged or unexamined “differences” often perpetuate conflict. Sometimes an outside facilitator can be a great help in navigating through your congregational culture to better see what issues may not be obvious to you.
As Unitarian Universalists, covenant is our pathway to building/re-building community. All conflict work needs to begin in covenant; we need to understand how we will be together before we can decide what is to be done.
If you feel that your congregation might be headed into conflict it is a good idea to reach out to your Congregational Life regional field staff. Let’s have an initial conversation to see how you might be best supported.
Start with Covenant
Living in a committed, covenantal community is a great way to avoid destructive conflict. Our covenants will reflect our values such as the worth and dignity of all. If living in a covenantal way is part of the congregation’s cultural norms, they are more likely to navigate conflict in a healthy and creative way.
Watch Out for Triangulation!
One sure way to invite conflict into a congregation is by triangulating. Triangulation is about the transference of anxiety, creating unhealthy relationship triangles. One way that human beings react to anxiety is to try and get rid of it by giving it to someone else.
Healthy Congregations Have Creative Conflict
The sixteenth-century Transylvanian Unitarian Francis Dávid is supposed to have said, “We need not think alike to love alike.” But how do we practice that in our congregations?
Levels of Conflict
Not all conflict is alike. Different kinds of conflict require different kinds of responses. This is an overview of a model of conflict by Alban Institute consultant Speed Leas.
Congregational leaders and members have the responsibility to provide a safe and welcoming environment for children and adults—both regular attendees and visitors. Developing a Disruptive Behavior Policy indicates a commitment to creating a safe and welcoming environment by confirming a list of expectations for everyone's behavior.
Reconciliation as a Spiritual Practice
When we engage in reconciliation--which is different than an apology or forgiveness--we invite change that will transform a relationship.