Conflict and Communities

In this sixth week of learning about church administration, I’m learning about conflict and legal matters for congregations. If you want to follow along, this week I’m reading and reflecting on the chapters titled, “When Conflict Comes Calling,” and “Life under Law” (pgs. 241-290) of Church Administration by Robert N. Bacher and Michael L. Cooper-White.

You might have noticed that we have reached week six of a six week reflection series for my independent study on Church Administration. There will be one more post coming up on a couple interviews with church professionals about the role of administration in their work and service. But this is the last post specifically on Church Administration by Bacher and Copper-White. I feel like I have more to write about on this topic than this class can contain. Likewise, I can see, from the citations and footnotes and tone of writing of these authors, that these folks have more to say too!


Both of these last chapters had great practical content that I could see referencing back to in my first call. Once again, I recommend this book to clergy and others who are invested in church leadership. Especially in the chapter, “When Conflict Comes Calling,” I found myself feeling affirmed by their suggestions from my lived experience, and curious as to how I might implement and/or translate these helpful tid-bits to my future congregation, council, or leadership team.

I think it’s key to remember, for an “eagle eye” view framework, that conflict is not sinful. For instance, the prophets, for good or bad, were called by God to speak out against the behaviors of their people that distanced them from God, or further harmed their people. This doesn’t mean that conflict in a community is sinful, but that a life of faithfulness can bring an entire people to connection with God, and part of that growth involves conflict.

As an individual leader, I think it was a good reminder that conflict might feel uncomfortable, but it just might be a sign that you and/or your relationship with another is growing. Bacher and Cooper-White mention that many of Paul’s letters contain admonition and instruction on how to live in a community with individuals who do not agree all the time. At the root of his letters is a desire for these communities to grow in a closer relationship with God as the body of Christ. He doesn’t “sweep [conflict] under the rug,” but calls them to engage together for the sake of growth and God’s mission among them.


One of the helpful practices in this chapter is conducting a conflict “diagnostic assessment,” which includes questions like this:

Who are the parties [in] the conflict?

Which individuals and groups are involved?

What are their formal and informal roles within the community’s organizational system?

Also a key question I believe is What do they say they want? In my CPE unit last summer I found it helpful to do a spiritual assessment with people on my unit. It helped guide my next steps and approach, while keeping their best interest and well-being at the center (whatever that meant to that individual/family). I think this conflict diagnostic assessment would function in the same way with a congregation in the midst of conflict. Check out the rest of the questions on page 255.

As a facilitator or moderator during a time of conflict, I think it’s helpful to read page 258, which explains the impact of having “ground rules.” These are things that are as simple as providing refreshments, placing chairs in a circle, not a rectangle, and to create a “rules of engagement” list that contains things like “We will attempt to focus on and discuss or debate issues, avoiding personal attacks and disparaging comments about the attitudes and perspectives of others.” Of course, this implies that the leader has facilitation skills, but I think these “staging” practices are key to administering conflict well.

It might sound a little strange, but I think the authors are right, that the very act of collectively creating rules of engagement is an act that brings a group of people together. However small, completing a task together can give a little boost of hope to an otherwise tension-filled situation.

I think the care with which these authors outlined practices and rationale for administering conflict is very helpful. I wish though they would have expanded the section on understanding your own style of conflict. Just as instances of congregational conflict are different, I would bet that each person internally engages and processes that conflict differently. But these two chapters were extremely helpful in my growing understanding of how to administer conflict and legal questions in a congregation, and I hope you read them too!

Assuming that you have worshiped at or served a congregation in moments of conflict, what wisdom would you pass onto your colleagues about conflict? In what way was conflict dealt with poorly? Was there a particular process or practice that your community used to move through conflict in a positive way?


Goodness gracious.

Hello All. No sermon or reflection here, just a quick snapshot of the last few weeks.

We are moving to Washington state (#Siburgsonthemove). I am starting my pastoral internship in Vancouver, WA on September 1st. We leave Saturday. People keep telling me, “Goodbye” and, “Don’t leave!” but one of my Minnesota mentors said “Why don’t we just say, ‘See you later’?” Then she laughed at me, as she does. For my first call/first job and Timothy’s first call/first job after approval in a year, who knows where we’ll be in the country (in the world?). But for sure, for the next year we’ll be in Washington. What my Dad humbly refers to as “God’s country.”

But I have to tell you. The last couple weeks have been — let me just show you in pictures.


In July we were lucky enough to attend back to back Twins vs. Mariners games at Target Field. The M’s won + Friday fireworks with the hubs. The first game was an alma mater PLU MN connections council meet-up with to-be Lutes in the Fall!! THEY WERE SO AWESOME. I am so pumped for them. Yea SEA represent in MSP! Also it was my last on-call at the hospital for CPE. So I was constantly checking my pager. I had fun but felt lame because I was at a baseball game instead of the hospital helping hundreds of people at one time. I know, I have high expectations of myself.

Timothy’s co-worker has season tickets and sold them to Timothy so Timothy could take me out on a date. Day two of Twins vs. Mariners. No more on-call. Celebration of no more on-call. Celebration of last week of “normal weekly CPE schedule & next week is final evaluation.”

Four days previous, I learned that I had had three weeks of intense visits. Just by dumb luck. On-call at night and during the day. In it, it felt like “par for the course” but Timothy, my small group, and my supervisor were all like “…what is up?” So I recounted. Deaths. Accused murderers. Rape. Cheating. Dead babies. Burned houses. Suicides. Repeat families/patients. Daily “regular” visits became daunting and harder. It was because I had been building up a protective wall because this swath of encounters took a huge emotional toil on me. That wall carried into home, family, and work. It was awful. No wonder I felt like crap.

So my supervisor asked what I needed the morning following this “learning” (breakdown, spiritual awakening, whatever you want to call it). I said I needed to go home. So I drove to Timothy and slept in his co-worker’s office. Yes, co-worker came in but I didn’t care. I needed rest. So I did nothing. I walked. Slept. Slept some more. Slept the next morning, late-morning to a sun-drenched living room with my friends serenading me, Nickel Creek, Chris Thile, and Jack Savoretti. Cat nearby. It was the most peace I have found in months. I finally found the reason why I cut my hair this way – walking by a windy lake in the sun during the heat of the day. After CPE weekdays and summer wedding/birthday/gathering-filled weekends (which I felt grateful to be invited to), I took a Sabbath.


Twenty-four hours later, I came back to work and we played frisbee with a fellow chaplain’s indoor frisbee. I highly recommend it. The rest of our floor (administrative offices) doesn’t like it but I don’t really care (oops). A life (work life) without play just doesn’t make sense to me.







Then this happened. My birthday was in April and for my birthday Timothy purchased tickets to a Pentatonix and Kelly Clarkson (with Eric Hutchinson) concert. Yes, Pentatonix who did this and Kelly Clarkson who did this while America, me and my mother watched and cheered to our TV when I was in high school.  We didn’t know we would be moving, in CPE, and Timothy flying to WA for his AIM approval interview 8 hours after the concert – who cares! We went anyway. Oh shoot did we. Concert-Allison is not normal-Allison (or maybe she is?). The music, the people around me (polite Minnesotans who thought I was nuts), the crowd, it’s just awful. I am a hot mess. I cried before we even got in the arena. I cried during a piano version of Kelly’s (yes we’re on a first-name basis now) “Piece by Piece” (mom get the kleenex), I danced during the Daft Punk medly by Pentatonix and pretty much the whole giant Kelly production. Darn does she know how to put on a show. Timothy had no idea what he was getting into, but we’re still on speaking terms and it’s been a couple weeks so I think he was ok with it. And for the record he jumped up and danced to “Stronger.” Best. Moment. Ever.

This is us20150804_230015 after the concert, running to the car, to run to sleep, to run to the airport. I might have just ran to the car by Cossetta’s with my mouth open, omitting noise, because I was so excited. Literally. Life high. Sorry parking garage attendant for my poor singing.







20150806_084515_smallThen we had goodbyes at Abbott. Here’s my spot during morning rounds as a chaplain on a medical/surgical wingin the main hospital. This is the room where I got confused by so many medical terms and got encouragement that it mattered I was there, listening for the “human connections” as we reviewed patients’ charts together each morning. The social worker & care coordinator got me donuts and a nice group card. It was the last day of looking at my patient list & making notes. Gosh. I miss it already.




This is me and the other clinical pastor20150807_140344al education chaplain interns this summer. We were each assigned different wings/unit just like the regular staff chaplains. We each took about 12 24/7 all-hospital on-call assignments throughout the summer. I am so proud of this group. Many are in Master of Divinity programs, or just dipping toes in potential on-going chaplain work; from Luther Sem, Bethel Sem, Seattle School & United Sem. Our supervisor is the strange man in the back. He is so strange and in love with the theme song “Welcome Back Kotter” which we serenaded to him on our last day last week. His spirit of humor and warmth helped me trust him and his trust in me created a really rich space to grow and learn, about others, but mostly about me. Yes, it sounds self-centered, but if we don’t know who we are, how do we know anyone else?

On my last day at my hospital unit during morning rounds, where I was the consistent presence from the Spiritual Care team of the hospital, our care coordinator told each rounding physician, “It’s chaplain’s last day.” She didn’t say “the chaplain” or “Allison,” she just said “chaplain.” That was my name. I know part of me cringes because I’m a unique child of God, and that’s expressed through my name, “Allison,” but something about the way she said it made me feel so proud. I knew who I was there for the most part, but it was in the “being known” that I truly learned who I was. What a radical summer.

So I know this was a totally self-indulgent post, but I had to share this with you, people I care for.

One more thing: When we pray in church “for all those in need…” I think that’s bologna. We all have needs. There aren’t just a few people who have needs. We all need something. We all want something. What do you need? What do you want? Might as well name it instead of beating around the bush. I’ll say mine: I needed to write this. I want to share my story so that someone out there might not feel so lonely in their’s. So that’s all I have for today. Thank you for all your prayers, love, play, and good vibes. I can feel them here. Washington, here we come. Days. Oh man! And like how I finished every written reflection, dialogue or practice in CPE (my final evaluation contains one, turn your speakers up, Northwest Washington candidacy committee!), here is a musical reflection of my FEELINGS! Oh feelings.