by Anthony S. Bashir and Fr. John Mefrige
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23–24).
Pastors, parishioners and parish councils often find themselves in conflict with each other—conflicts that arise from misunderstandings, differences in interests and values, competition for position and power, and sinful actions. St. James teaches that conflict and quarrels are caused by the preeminence of our desires and passions. When left unfilled, these demands and passions lead us to resent and accuse one another; conflict arises, and the result is enmity and our separation from Christ.
Inordinate attachment to our differences and demands often leads us into conflict with one another. The desires for control that fire these differences are self-centered and divisive, seeking their own satisfaction, often at any cost. When they are not satisfied, disappointments arise, leading us to make more unreasonable demands of others, to judge others for not fulfilling our desires or doing what we think is right. We act in divisive ways, and finally punish others or retaliate through our actions, with accusations, arguments, gossip, hatred, and more. Conflict has painful effects on us, wounding and tearing the fabric of our oneness in Christ Jesus.
When conflict in a parish is not addressed in a skillful and spiritual manner, it can become corrosive, with grave consequences for pastors and parishioners alike. The more prolonged and contentious the conflict, the more harm done. Conflict, how-ever, offers us an important opportunity to serve other people as stewards, to grow through these practices toward a union with Christ (theosis) and to give glory to God.
In resolving a conflict, we trust in God’s compassion and mercy, taking responsi-bility for the role we have had in it, allowing ourselves to be restored, genuinely seeking peace and reconciliation, and forgiving each other as Christ has forgiven us. We consider the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who says, “O Lord, you will ordain peace for us, for indeed, all that we have done, you have done for us” (Is. 26:12).
God loved us so much that we were reconciled with him through Christ Jesus and redeemed from our estrangement. St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans states, “We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom. 5:11). Consequently, there is an urgent need for peacemaking efforts and reconciliation within our everyday lives and within the life of the Church. In fact, peacemaking and reconciliation are essential ministries of the Church. A ministry of peacemaking and reconciliation and its practices are committed to building up the body of Christ and His Church. The mission of this peacemaking ministry focuses on teaching practices that bring about the resolution of conflict through reconciliation. This resolution allows movement through forgiveness to communion, where once there was conflict and enmity.
In June 2010, Metropolitan Philip (Antiochian Archdiocese of North America) approved the creation of a ministry for peacemaking and reconciliation within the Department of Lay Ministry of the Archdiocese. Since then, several of us (Frs. John Mefrige and Timothy Ferguson, Dr. John Dalack, Anthony Bashir) have sought professional training in peacemaking and reconciliation within spiritual com-munities. Our approach is grounded in the teachings of the Orthodox Church and incorporates scriptural and patristic teachings. With the approval of the Metro-politan, we have begun to work with a few parishes, focusing on their desire once again to be reconciled one to the other and to let their “light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).
This ministry is an initiative in support of our Hierarchy, our clergy, and our churches. The goal is to implement a healthy and spiritual process that focuses on conflict resolution and reconciliation. At this time, the Department is preparing to offer professionally trained crisis-intervention teams to help local parishes embroiled in destructive conflict. It is our belief that the Orthodox Christian mediator is an unbiased person who serves many functions, including convening, facilitating communication and understanding, building trust, modeling behavior, generating alternatives, and bearing witness.
When our department is invited to a parish and given permission to intervene by the Metropolitan, we will follow a specific process that includes an assessment of the current conflict and a determination of readiness for intervention. Our mediation efforts follow a specific process: ground rules are established, opening statements are made, stories are heard, problems identified and clarified, solutions explored, and agreements made. Conflict coaching and conflict mediation have distinct phases that incorporate the Scriptures as well as the Church Fathers in an open, fair, and honest dialogue directed to reconciliation and forgiveness.
As this ministry grows, we will want to recruit and train qualified individuals within each of the dioceses so as to build a team of well-prepared Orthodox Christian mediators who will be available, as needed, for peacemaking and reconciliation initiatives. Specific information and qualifications concerning team membership will be made available upon request. We will work through the Metropolitan’s office so that we might be in contact with local bishops, who could assist us in identifying potential members for this department. Our goal is to create a department that works in harmony with diocesan representatives who are prepared and trained in this ministry to the glory of God. IC
For information regarding this ministry or for answers to specific questions, please contact Fr. John or Anthony Bashir at one of the following e-mail addresses: [email protected], [email protected] IC published an article by Fr. John titled “Peacemaking and Conflict Resolution in the Church” in issue 57, Summer 2010.
In Communion / Winter 2013