Saturday, September 24, 2016

Adventures in Continuing Education: Mediation Skills

L to R: Sandra Spaulding (Bottskill and Lakeville Baptist), George Stefani
(Latham Community Baptist), Doris Segrave (FBC Saratoga Springs),
Jim Kelsey (ABCNYS), Kathy Donley (Emmanuel Baptist, Albany),
Jim Ketchum (FOCUS Churches), and Jerrod Hugenot (ABCNYS)
For the past few days, I have been involved with a continuing education event. The Lombard Mennonite Peace Center in the suburbs of Chicago sent its Executive Director the Rev. Richard Blackburn to Albany, New York, where about forty pastors, lay leaders and denominational staff members participated in an ecumenical learning opportunity.  The Capital Region Theological Center (CRTC) staff helped make this event possible through its partnership with LMPC and its own investment in providing quality theological education and training.
One could say it was a deeply practical event, exploring mediation skills in interpersonal and organizational conflict.  Many problems I am asked to be involved with will inevitably deal with some level of conflict in congregations.  Ambiguity about pastoral transitions, budget woes and matters large and small, overt and subtle drive more calls and emails than I would like to admit.

Yet everyday life is rife with the elements of conflict:  misunderstanding, differences, haste to make decisions, and various levels of chronic and acute anxiety.  When people resort to hasty decisions, avoiding or cutting off the voices around them that may complicate or engage in some sort of turf war (maybe over sharing the playground or deciding who gets control of a territory in dispute), the human race does not exactly distinguish itself with our centuries of development, technology and "civilization".

Rev. Blackburn provides trainings for churches and other groups wishing to learn how to craft a better way forward.  He shared stories of congregational mediations where a process he teaches will lead to greater understanding between otherwise divided people.  His methods do not rush reconciliation or cheapen the process by suggesting that some hard work can be avoided or skated over.  

Engaging this past week in some role play scenarios with fellow learners reinforced that realization.  Talking about a congregant angry about a memorial fund contribution's handling of her loved one's memorial monies or a church at odds with a newly called minister (yet dealing with years and decades of prior unresolved tensions) were an opportunity to "play a part" yet be in the midst of the lived realities of churches of any size, and indeed, just like every church to which I have belonged or served in a lay or ordained capacity.

To learn more about the ministry of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, visit  The CRTC in the Albany area can be followed via: or via their Facebook page.

I am grateful for the financial support to attend this event provided by the American Baptist Home Mission Societies and the continuing education funds set aside for Region staff by the annual budget of the American Baptist Churches of New York State, which is made possible by the contributions of our 294 local churches to the 2016 ABCNYS Region Offering and portions of the America for Christ Offering (ABHMS) and the ABCUSA United Mission Basics.

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