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How not to teach conflict resolution

How not to teach conflict resolution

Tom Ehrich watches the conflict going on at the Episcopal Divinity School and observes that this is no way to teach seminarians how to manage conflict.


He writes:

I read letter-bombs from the leadership conflict at my seminary, Episcopal Divinity School, and I shudder….

…Viewing this battle from afar, I come to two conclusions:

First, ordinands heading to congregations should remember this conflict as an example of how NOT to behave. Leadership conflicts happen constantly in churches, and they are made worse, not better, by tactics such as secret votes of no confidence, citing rules and procedures, encouraging non-combatants to take sides, and scapegoating.

Second, if we wonder why two successive generations of young adults have shunned our churches, we need only look at a conflict like this. Bitter feelings, toxic attitudes, strong accusations, people talking past each other, idolatry of right opinion, and a determination to win — not to serve a “sinful and broken world,” as our Prayer Book puts it, not to grapple with new realities affecting congregations, rather a determination to win.

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Canon K F KKing Tssf

I am reminded of my first year at Bexley Hall; the senior class was the first class back in Bexley Hall after the War (Bexley was at Virginia in the War). They were toxic, demanding their respective bishops to help get rid of the Dean. A group of about 12-15 of the first year class began meeting quietly and secretly to discuss how they could support the Dean and Faculty.. . and save the seminary. First they knew they needed to let the Dean know so they got together with him secretly and as usual, nothing said was to leave the room. The Dean was aghast. After a discussion he understood the intent and cooperated with the group and a difficult experience was averted . . . until 14 years later, when the Dean was allowed to resign with a year or so sabbatical. It was, in face, the first unofficial experience I had of the Group Life laboratory movement that produced the Parish Life Conference. The Eleventh Commandment (John 13:34-35) gets lost in the "heady" environment of those who represent the Christian Faith in the Lord's Church.. . and especially in seminaries!

Canon K. F. King (Retired)

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