RR Teams

votive candles arranged in the shape of a heart

Creating beloved community requires intention and practice. Our covenants articulate our intention, but how do we live into the practice? Right Relations Teams are lay leaders entrusted to help the congregation practice faithful communication and creative conflict based on values of mutuality and consent.

What is the Role of a Right Relationship Team?

Right Relationship Teams (RRT) are still a fairly new concept within congregations. It has been common for some time that a Committee on Shared Ministry be tasked with addressing conflict as it rises. However, the skill-set and orientation required for the kind of balcony view analysis and evaluation does not always translate to the kind of skill set and orientation required for covenant tending and conflict engagement. Ideally, a congregation would separate those out into two different teams: Committee on Shared Ministry and Right Relationship Team.

Right Relations Teams are lay leaders entrusted to help the congregation practice faithful communication and creative conflict based on values of mutuality and consent. Their roles can include

  • Tending to the covenant by articulating and modeling its practice
  • Provide training and other learning opportunities around the tensions needed for creativity in congregations
  • Model and coach communication processes that promote mutuality and consent (i.e. small group ministry, discernment circles)
  • Model and coach creative conflict
  • In low level conflict, create brave spaces where people can move from defensiveness toward resolution
  • When conflict does become more heated, they also can offer opportunities for deep listening and restorative processes.
  • Create low-anxiety/high-learning experiences for the congregation around conflict and covenant

What a Right Relationship Team Can Offer

A RRT can help change a congregation’s overall understanding of conflict, covenant and their own personal and collective narrative.

A RRT provides healthy communication and conflict engagement training to the congregation using UUA and tailored resources.

A RRT offers conflict engagement services to individual members. Sometimes a member needs a sounding board and coaching as to how to bring their better self to a situation. Sometimes, when a smaller group of the congregation is feeling stuck in a situation, the RRT can hold the container in the form of listening circles to help them hear each other more effectively. By providing these opportunities, a RRT can set expectations of communicating openly and honestly and help the congregation to do just that.

What an Right Relationship Team Cannot Offer

A RRT cannot offer mediation between family members or on marital issues.

A RRT cannot offer facilitated conversations to address conflict with people not bound by the congregation’s covenant, because covenant is at the center of everything the RRT does.

When a conflict involves staff, it is essential that the staff supervisor take the lead on the situation. Staff are employees bound by contract, not by the congregation’s covenant. If they are both employees and members, they are employees first.

When a conflict involves the minister, contact your UUA primary contact.

Resources for Your Right Relationship Team

Below you will find a collection of resources to create and support a RRT in your congregation.

Restorative Framework

Social Discipline grid showing high accountability along the vertical axis and high support along the horizontal axis

Paul McCold and Ted Wachtel articulated the social discipline window framework as a tool to reflect on power dynamics in communities.

This mental model can be helpful in understanding different patterns of how we might respond when someone is causing harm in our communities.

The model has four quadrants of how a community might respond to a person who has caused harm, with the horizontal axis being how much support is given to the person, and the vertical axis being how much accountability is expected from the person.

Neglectful: Low Support, Low Accountability

  • When the community doesn't have a shared sense of appropriate behavior, members may have individual understanding of what constitutes good manners, or what behaviors are acceptable. People feel free to behave however they want, and can cause harm. No one in the community is empowered to provide direction, support, or accountability for the situation. The people who experience or observe the harm see the community neglecting the thriving and safety of some of its members. Some will see harmful behaviors as the norm and will feel free to engage in them. Others will feel anxious or fearful, and will leave.

Permissive: High Support, Low Accountability

  • When a community articulates its ideals about how each person has inherent worth and dignity, and may have a covenant, but doesn't actually address situations where covenant is broken or harm happens, the community is giving implicit permission for the problematic behaviors to continue. Often, when someone with more power and/or priviledge acts harmfully to someone with less power and/or priviledge, leaders downplay the harm, claiming good intentions, suggesting that the harmed person is overreacting, or excusing the behavior as a quirky, unchangeable personality trait. Even though the community talks about ideal behaviors, the people with less power and/or priviledge feel that they don't matter, don't really belong in any meaningful way, and will eventually drift away.

Punative: Low Support, High Accountability

  • When a community doesn't treat its members as having inherent worth and dignity in practice, it looks to use punishment as the only way to modify behavior. It doesn't focus on the impact of the situation on the one harmed. It doesn’t focus on the wellbeing of the one who caused harm either, just with applying harsh consequences . Because this is the dominant model in the U.S. criminal justice system, it is often the expectation in our congregations, even though it runs counter to UU core values. Those who have experienced harm - or feel that they have - might move quickly to demanding this sort of punitive response as a way for the community to demonstrate its support of the one(s) harmed.

Restorative: High Support, High Accountability

  • When a community understands that humans are complex creatures with capacity for both care and harm, it finds a way to encourage the safety and thriving of all of its members. It sets clear expectations of appropriate boundaries and behaviors, encourages the practice of deep listening and compassionate communication, and offers to restore community and repair relationships when harm has occurred (when possible). Everyone gets a chance to tell their story, to learn from their mistakes, and to have a voice in finding a way forward. Once a way forward is agreed to, the community continues to support both the one who has experienced harm and the one who has caused harm as they do the work of restoring right relationship.

RRT Accountability

Diagram showing a large circle labeled community enclosing 5 smaller circles labelled Minister, Board, Covenant, Safe Congregations Team and Right Relationship Team

Support and accountability for different aspects of right relationship lie within different parts of the congregation.

  • The Community supports:
    • Culture supporting restorative process
    • Encouraging people in conflict to engage the processes
    • Communal learning to deepen abilities of all to engage in interpersonal conflict in healthy ways
  • The Covenant supports:
    • Clear expectations
    • Clear guidance on solving conflicts directly
    • Clear guidance on who to turn to for more help
  • The Right Relationship Team:
    • Leads community in updating covenant, culture, and skills
    • Supports individuals needing assistance with direct conversations
    • Starting point for more formal restorative processes
  • The Safe Congregations Team supports:
    • Setting limits for community safety
    • Sex offender limited access agreements
    • Destructive persons’ process
    • Holds the process for asking someone to leave the community
  • The Board supports
    •  Creating policies; appointing leaders; funding training
    • May receive appeal requests from those in conflict
    • Formally approves vote to remove someone from leadership or membership; or to leave congregation
  • The Minister supports:
    • Pastoral care for all
    • Creating worship that supports culture shifts; theology and spiritual practices of engaging in conflict and restoration
    • Has boundaries with conflict between congregants; rare to have a “side”
    • Rarely leads conflict process

The RRT has a nuanced role among these relationships. The RRT is accountable to the mission and covenant of the congregation and should therefore be a committee (team) of the board. But because of the confidential, vulnerable nature of the work, the RRT should meet with the minister regularly for support and guidance, much like the pastoral care team.

In sticky situations where there is a conflict on the board or with the minister, contact your UUA primary contact.

RRT Charter

The following (from the Northlake UU Church in Kirkland, WA) is an example of a chater (or charge) for a Right Relationship Team (aka Healthy Congregation Team):

Purposes

  • To facilitate the well-being of the _________ Community by fostering harmonious relations and mediating conflicts within the membership.
  • To be visible and available as a listening ear so that when an interpersonal conflict arises, members can seek support and advice before the conflict grows.

Composition

  • Is composed of three members, whose names and contact information are made available to the members of the congregation, to contact as needed.
  • Members are appointed by the Board, with the advice of the Minister and the Committee on Ministry. An effort should be made to choose members representing the broad diversity of the congregation, including ensuring they are not seen as part of the same “circles”.
  • Members should be chosen for these skills:
    • wisdom
    • experience
    • good listening skills
    • skill in conflict resolution
    • respected by church members
    • able to remain impartial in the midst of conflict
  • Membership will be for two years. Members may serve for two consecutive terms.

Role

(“Steps” listed below refer to steps in the document “Pathway to Conflict Resolution (PDF)”)

  • Be available to listen, support, and advise members of the congregation who are experiencing an interpersonal conflict or feeling like they are not in right relations with another member of the congregation, or with church staff.
    • Step 1: If an HCT member is approached by a church member (Person A) asking for support: they should meet with them within a week to provide reflective listening and offer guidance that can point the way toward reconciliation. The focus is on self-reflection on Person A’s role in the conflict, and on empathy for Person B and their perspective. The HCT member should listen to person A’s concerns, ask clarifying questions, and share suggestions that may help them to resolve the situation themselves. If person A continues to have an issue with person B, HCT may propose that they move to step 2 of conflict resolution, where person A would speak directly to the person with whom they have concerns, or step 2a where a member of HCT would accompany them in this direct conversation.
    • Step 2: If an HCT member is approached by a church member for assistance with a direct conversation, the HCT member should work with parties A and B to arrange a time for a private meeting within a week for a facilitated conversation. At the meeting, the HCT member will facilitate a dialogue between parties A and B. The goal is to assist them in understanding each other and the issues. The focus is on the parties’ willingness to solve the problem rather than determining who is guilty or at fault.
    • Step 3: If facilitated dialog is not possible, or does not resolve the conflict, Person A, B, or the HCT member can suggest moving to level 3 of conflict resolution, engaging the board. Before doing so, they should work together to gain clarity on what issues still feel unresolved.
  • Promote Right Relations and healthy conflict resolution:
    • To regularly publicize our Healthy Congregation packet, including the covenant of right relations and policies for resolving conflict. One method for doing this would be placing our prepared insert into the Sunday bulletin for one service per quarter.
    • If the HCT believes that the congregation as a whole would benefit from education on right relations (for example, a town hall or an adult RE class), they may notify COM, the Board, or our Director of Religious Education and provide support with planning, as they are able.
  • Limitations on Role: Members of the HCT are not expected to be therapists, to listen to all of the member’s problems, or to fix all the problems. They are focused only on providing support with interpersonal conflicts between members, or between a member and a staff person.

Confidentiality

  • Conversations with members of the HCT team are confidential, and details will not be shared without the explicit permission of the person(s) involved in the conversation. If the HCT member believes it to be important to discuss the issue with other members of the HCT, they will ask permission to do so.
  • Note: Exceptions to this confidentiality would be made in cases which might involve criminal activity, including abuse or maltreatment of a child or other vulnerable person.

Meeting and Reporting

  • The HCT does not hold regular scheduled meetings. Members of the team may choose to meet at any time to consult on issues as needed.
  • The HCT is not required to make regular reports to the Board. The Board may ask for a “snapshot report” when needed, which is intended to give them a brief insight into the state of the congregation. The report from the HCT would be brief, with no confidential details. Examples might be: “No concerns were reported to the HCT in the past two months.” “We have had four individuals come to us for support. Two were able to resolve their own issue. One needed assistance speaking to the person they were in conflict with, but it is now resolved. One is not resolved, and may require escalation to the Board.”

RRT Composition

A grouping of six avatars with different identities

Because they will be asked to assist when members of your congregation are in conflict, you want Right Relationship Team members who are well respected and trusted based on their spiritual maturity and deep listening skills. Conflict transformation requires vulnerability, which requires trust.

Teams that have diversity of age and identity tend to be able to navigate the nuances of intercultural communication and conflict. Culture adds complexity, so the more diverse your team is, the more complexity they can likely hold in service to your religious community.

Qualities Needed for Right Relationship Team Members

  • A practitioner of deep listening
  • Able to manage their own reactivity when under pressure
  • Able to avoid being triangulated into the conflicts of others
  • Patient around process and outcomes
  • Humble about their role as facilitating process, not fixing
  • Able to see the big picture
  • Able to hold multiple perspectives
  • Open to being transformed themselves
  • Trusted and respected by the community
  • Sensitive to power inequities and oppression dynamics
  • Skilled at conflict engagement or willing to learn and specifically to be trained
  • Well-grounded in Unitarian Universalism (practicing at least 3 years)
  • Committed to the mission of the congregation and not a personal agenda

Selection Process for Right Relationship Team Members

Because of the responsibility entrusted to the Right Relationship Team, its members must be selected using a process (based on the qualities listed above) that includes consultation with and consent of other key leaders in the congregation, especially the minister.

Here are some options that have worked for other congregations:

  1. The minister and Committee on Ministry nominates, and the board approves.
  2. The board convenes a selection committee, and asks for nominations/applications. They choose based on who meets the qualities.
  3. The board convenes a selection committee, and asks everyone in the congregation to submit three names of people they would trust to help them with a conflicted situation. The committee chooses from those trusted names.

No matter what your process, make sure your minister has input into the selection. (If you don’t have a minister, involve your religious educator.) Their role tends to give them more information than most lay leaders would have access to.

Training

The UUA offers a robust online training that your team can take together:

Sample Application

Name:

Email:

Phone:

Text okay? __ Yes ___ No

  1. How long have you been a member?
  2. What is drawing you to apply for the Right Relations Team? Why do you want to be on this Team?
  3. What gifts and skills do you bring to the work of Right Relations?
  4. What do you think will be challenging for you in Right Relations work?
  5. Do you have any relevant training or experience in restorative practices, conflict engagement, etc.? (Life experience counts!)
  6. Please list 2 members of the congregation who have worked closely with you and can tell us more about your gifts and skills for Right Relations.(For large congregations where you may not know everyone personally)

Please read carefully and sign:

I understand that being on the Right Relations Team is a sacred trust. I understand that I will receive confidential information and be part of sensitive conversations. I will honor and keep the confidences placed in me. I will approach my work on the team as fairly and compassionately as I can and practice ongoing accountability to the rest of the Right Relations Team.

Signed__________________________________ Date:_________________

RRT UUA Training

Two hands holding sparklers in twilight with a heart-shaped filter around the sparks.

Creating beloved community requires intention and practice. Our covenants articulate our intention, but how do we live into the practice? Right Relations Teams are lay leaders entrusted to help the congregation practice faithful communication and creative conflict based on values of mutuality and consent.

This training is for congregational teams who will be helping their congregations (or other covenantal communities) live into their covenants.

As the name implies, this course is designed to be taken by partners or teams who will work it together in conversation and practice. Go at the pace that works for your group — 7 days, 7 weeks, 7 months. You can also take it on your own if that’s your only option. (More about group registration here.)


Training fee: $30 per participant

Access the Right Relationship Team Training

(Note: You will redirected to a separate website, UU Institute, a online learning management system (LMS) managed by the UUA.)

How To Take Trainings from the UU Leadership Institute

Register for trainings at UU Institute. Once you register you will get an email with a confirmation link that you need to click to activate the account. (You may need to check your spam folder. Please add uuinstitute.org to your safe senders list.)

There is a a full video tutorial on how register for the site, purchase a training and how to navigate the trainings.

Bullying

Silouette of a man holding his face in dejection with a word cloud of terms like "useless, insignificant, worthless" "

In order to help our congregations be places where people can bring their own full and authentic selves, our covenants call us to treat one another with care and compassion. But there are times when members of our congregations, especially members who have power and/or priviledge, act in ways that are intimidating, hostile, abusive, and/or oppressive.

When Right Relationship Teams, boards, or other leaders tasked with addressing harmful behaviors have a situation where bullying or emotional abuse is happening, part of the challenge is being able to name the behavior and the harm it is causing, so that they can communicate their response.
The UUMA—when they added " I will not engage in bullying behavior or emotional abuse.." to their Code of Conduct in August of 2021—also included an addendum that named behaviors that, when engaged in as a pattern, are considered bullying or emotional abusive.

What follows is that list, adapted for lay people:

  • Speech and/or behavior that is derogating, demeaning, controlling, punishing, or manipulative.
  • Withholding communication, support, or resources.
  • Passive-aggressive behavior (covert hostility).
  • Inappropriately leaving a person out of decision-making.
  • Spying, stalking, hovering, and invading someone’s person, space, or belongings.
  • Making threats, judging, destructive criticism, lying, blaming, name-calling, ordering, and raging.
  • Couching criticism in the form of jokes, sarcasm or teasing.
  • Opposing: a pattern of arguing against anything someone says, challenging their perceptions, opinions, and thoughts. Treating another as an adversary, in effect saying “No” to everything, so a constructive conversation is impossible.
  • Blocking: may include switching topics, accusations, or use of words or other means to stop conversation.
  • Discounting and belittling: minimizing or trivializing someone’s feelings, thoughts, experiences, or credentials.
  • Undermining and interrupting: use of words intended to undermine someone’s self-esteem and confidence, such as, “You don’t know what you’re talking about,” finishing sentences, or speaking on someone’s behalf without their permission.
  • Denying: denying that agreements or promises were made, or that a conversation or other events took place, including prior bullying behavior. In the extreme, a persistent pattern of denying is called gaslighting.
  • Isolating a person from systems of support.

Conflict Antidotes

In UU congregations, conflict avoidance, a sense of urgency, and either/or thinking can make it difficult to engage conflicts well. Tema Okun identifies these as characteristics of white supremacy culture. Using her antidotes, we will learn to engage conflicts of various kinds in ways that lead toward Beloved Community.

Handouts

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Think of a conflict that you can remember from your own congregation. As you reflect on the characteristics of White Supremacy Culture that the workshop leaders named, try to identify some characteristics that showed up in your conflict. What do you notice about how those characteristics affected the conflict’s escalation? How did they affect its resolution?
  2. Reflecting on the same conflict: if you could go back in time, what antidotes would you apply? How might they have called forth a different way of responding or resolving this conflict?
  3. Of the Antidotes to White Supremacy Culture we discussed in the workshop, which speak to you the most? Why?
  4. Which Antidotes do you really need to take to heart? Which ones could be your touchstones the next time you find yourself in conflict in UU community?

Sticks & Stones

stressed light skinned woman looking at computer screen

“I will not sink to your barbaric behavior.” I was ten; my sister was six. I knew more multisyllabic words than she did and she leapt at me with her little fists. I just sat there until mom arrived and punished her for hitting. Of course I loved my sister, but I’d already learned that words can be weapons.

There’s a dangerous trend sweeping through congregations. Maybe it’s political polarization. Or the scarcity of resources. Maybe anxiety about our post-pandemic future—whenever that will be. Likely it’s a confluence of all of these, plus the dopamine rush we get when posting to social media and watching the “likes” roll in. As leaders in your congregation, maybe you’ve also seen an increase in weaponized words.

Regrettably, I’ve been on both the sending and receiving end of this phenomenon. Years ago, my church board decided to halt a favorite spring tradition, wherein helium balloons were tied to the backs of random pews. Children and adults pulled on the strings, the colorful orbs bobbing throughout Sunday worship. One year the board made the decision to end it. They cited the danger of broken balloon scraps to wildlife and latex allergies. I had some feelings. I became activated. I had one thought: How can I make them keep the Balloon Service?

I became a blowhard. And Oh, did I blow! I talked to other parents - didn’t their kids love the Balloon Service?? Yes, they did! My family and friends loved Balloon Sunday. “Many people are against this plan,” went into my letter to the board. “People will leave the church over this!” I warned. A board member caught me in the hall to tell me that someone in the church with a latex allergy prompted their decision on the Balloon Service. But I had an answer: Mylar balloons. And that person could just be sure to only touch the string, not the balloon! I cringe admitting to thinking this; I grieve that I said it aloud. I centered my preference over someone else’s safety. I forgot the religious mandate to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable,” to center the needs of community over personal preferences. It was divisive. It undermined trust in my church’s elected leadership.

I got my way - sort of. Balloon Service was reinstated with mylar balloons that year, and maybe the next, but the board had been right. That tradition, beloved as it was, no longer served.

Soon after I was elected to the board myself, and experienced how easy it is to weaponize words from the receiving side.

How is it in your church today? Is someone blowing hard? We hear from leaders like you feeling a lack of trust in their leadership. Accusatory emails are increasingly angry and copied to would-be supporters to gin up outrage. Horrible accusations of conspiracy fly through social media. It’s a reflection of much that ails our wider culture.

We don’t know exactly what leadership through this kind of crisis in Faith looks like, but we know it calls for strong boundaries. Leaders can model ways to redirect triangulated communication. (This video is a great tool to share with committee chairs, too!)

Our people are not immune to the ambient anxiety and cultural polarization while we are feeling our way back into the habit of church. We long for things to feel familiar, but we change is obvious. There are empty pews; volunteer tasks left undone. It’s scary.

So we hear veiled threats -- “people are saying….,” “withdrawing pledges…,” and “splitting our church!” Weaponized words conjure armies of disaffected congregants ready to overthrow their leaders. Threats can work because we do fear the loss of pledges and people; but fear is not a good grounding for decisions. Fear is an unfaithful weapon to wield against elected leaders, an unsteady grounding for faithful decisions, and a rejection of our fifth principle.

These are hard times for faithful, differentiated leaders.It is hard to maintain covenantal communication. You’ll be forgiven if sometimes you too fall into the fear and anxiety you feel around you. We invite you to engage the practice of doing your own inner work to bring you back to your spirit’s core values. Breathe through the anxiety. Discern what is in your power to change and what is not; from there to determine how your leadership team will navigate the way between your power and your powerlessness.