Restoring Community

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The following is a guest post by Anne Martin, Director of Restorative Practices, Shalem Mental Health Network, Ontario, Canada.

 

Thousands of dollars disappear from a congregation’s safe. The Council’s executive informs the police. A police investigation discovers the pastor stole the money. He’s arrested. FaithCARE facilitates restorative conversations for church members to talk about the impact of the situation on them and others. The conversations form the basis of a victim impact statement.

Photo by P.A.H. at Flickr Creative Commons. Photo by P.A.H. at Flickr Creative Commons.

Conflict isn’t optional when it comes to human relationships. The way people respond to conflict is. Conflict can unite and transform a community. Conflict can also divide and poison a community.

Communities, including faith communities, develop habits of conflict. Sometimes members are conflict-adverse. In the name of niceness, respect and consideration, people deny and avoid conflict or hold parking lot meetings dealing indirectly with the issue at hand.

Sometimes congregational members are conflict-reactive. Conflict is met head-on. People justify hurtful candor, insisting they’re speaking the truth in love.

One of the central tenets of the Christian faith is that Jesus has reconciled the world to God. In response to God’s grace, the apostle Paul tells the Corinthians they are called to be “ministers of reconciliation” to others.

What does a ministry of reconciliation look like so that conflict is neither ignored and left to fester nor responded to, creating more harm? How can a congregation become conflict-friendly, learning and growing through responding well to conflict?

Faith Communities Affirming Restorative Experiences (FaithCARE), was born from such questions. In 2007, Shalem Mental Health Network hosted a retreat of restorative practices facilitators and denominational leaders to explore the use of restorative practices in congregations. To date, FaithCARE has worked with over 60 congregations from nine denominations.

Members of a congregation sign up to lease their land for wind turbines. Some congregational members condemn the signees for betraying the community. FaithCARE facilitates a restorative circle with signees 12 and members of the congregation to find a way forward.

When there’s conflict, FaithCARE facilitators offer a community response, ensuring that the dignity of the harmed and those causing the harm can remain intact or be restored so they can once again fully contribute as community members. A restorative response to conflict endeavors to heal the whole community as fully as possible.

A 14-year-old boy sexually abuses a number of young children from his congregation. FaithCARE brings together the boy’s parents, the pastor and some of the children’s parents for a restorative conference.

It’s not unusual for people who have been hurt and are invited to participate in a restorative response to ask what’s restored through restorative practices. Sometimes people are so deeply hurt that the thought of restoring a relationship that created so much harm is inconceivable. Sometimes people think it’s about forgiveness, and they’re not ready to forgive.

FaithCARE facilitators assure participants that a restorative response is not about forgiveness. A restorative response is about being heard and hearing others. It’s about opening to others, having a real and respectful conversation. It’s about taking a step forward.

A congregation’s pastor of 15 years announces he's retiring. FaithCARE facilitates congregational meetings to talk about the impact of the pastor’s decision.

FaithCARE also works with congregations to develop a restorative culture. A restorative culture sets out clear expectations for leadership and congregants and offers support to meet those expectations. A restorative congregation builds and strengthens relationships using intentional and explicit restorative practices to:

  • ensure everyone has a meaningful voice and is heard.
  • develop a fair decision-making process.
  • review and assess programs, policies and procedures.
  • provide a structure for meetings so that people enjoy their work and don’t burn out.
  • develop a common understanding of how to respond to conflict when it happens, restoring respect and dignity as fully as possible.

A congregation’s manse [parsonage] requires major repairs. Should the congregation sell the manse as is, repair it and then sell it, or keep it? FaithCARE organizes a series of congregational meetings to explore the question.

FaithCARE facilitators offer a number of workshops and trainings. In partnership with the International Institute for Restorative Practices, FaithCARE offers a three-day training, Learning How to Grow Restorative Churches. It’s always a privilege for FaithCARE facilitators to journey with a congregation. Each journey is an invitation for a community to grow in its understanding of the gospel call to the ministry of reconciliation. Each journey is an opportunity for FaithCARE to deepen its understanding of what it means to work restoratively and to support faith communities, strengthening them as faithful communities.

 

Anne Martin is the director of restorative practices with the Shalem Mental Health Network. Anne holds an M.A. in Religion and Culture and a Ph.D. in Religious Studies. She is trained in restorative practices and a founding member of the FaithCARE steering team.

Anne’s colleague, Bruce Schenk, will be offering a three-day professional development event, Strengthening Faith Communities Through Restorative Practices, in Oxford, UK, June 15-17, 2015. Learn more.