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 TopClara Barton &
Massachusetts Bay Districts
of Unitarian Universalist Congregations

NEWSLETTER: November 2013
In & Around the Districts
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Upcoming Programs

The following programs can also all be found on the 
CBD-MBD Calendar.

Learning Congregation Workshops

November 23: Creating and Supporting Lay Pastoral Care Teams with Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh

December 7: Transforming Congregational Conflict: Essential Leadership Skills with Dr. Eben Weitzman

January 11: Growing Better Religion with Rev. Tandi Rogers

February 1: Unitarian Universalist Spirituality: A Wellspring for Lay Leaders with Rev. Jen Crow  
March 1: Building a Vocal Community with Dr. Ysaye Barnwell

March 22: Speaking of Class with Meck Groot 


May 17: Sermon Writing for Lay Preachers with Rev. Sue Phillips    


May 31 and June 7: New Board Member Orientations with Douglas Zelinski   


Lifespan Faith Formation and Religious Education
Our Whole Lives Facilitator Trainings

Grades 7 to 9 and 10 to 12
Grades K to 1 and 4 to 6
For Religious Professionals
Annual Events: Hold Dates!

April 26: Freely Gathered - Third Annual Combined Districts Assembly

May 10: Renewing Our Commitment to Multicultural Ministries - Annual G.R.A.C.E. Team Summit
Understanding "the Work" of Conflict
by Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh,
Director of Congregational Development

Rev. John Gibb MillspaughIn early November the first year of a new pastorate, a seasoned UU minister, called on 98-year-old Mrs. Gannett in the nursing home. "Given your long tenure with our congregation," the minister asked, "I hope you could settle a question about the All Souls service ... specifically the altar. What is our custom?"


"Why do you ask?" said Mrs. Gannett.


"Well, Sunday morning the first portraits to be placed on the altar were of congregants and family members who had passed away. But then someone added a portrait of deceased actor Patrick Swayze, and the congregation began to murmur. Next came a tastefully framed photo of a departed ferret.


"Some people called out that it wasn't right. Others told them to hush. The squabbling grew and some folks walked out of the service. The Board President declared we would institute Robert's Rules to debate the matter civilly, but the Moderator couldn't be found so members leapt up to pull down or defend portraits as they saw fit. The ritual occasioned an all-out brawl."


"Ah, yes," said the 98-year-old Mrs. Gannett, dabbing a tear from her eye, "That is our custom."

Members of UU congregations gather for purposes central to the meaning of our lives: to find a sense of belonging, express our central values, create a spiritual home, experience love. It follows that when we disagree about how our congregations embody those ultimate concerns, our conflicts can grow heated. Thank goodness we care enough to passionately disagree! It's the rare UU congregation that has to look far to find conflict.


We're not alone -- a 2000 study found that 75% of faith communities had been in congregational conflict at some point over the previous 5 years, with a full third of those congregations reporting "serious conflict." [MORE]  


Transforming Congregational Conflict: Essential Leadership Skills

Eben WeitzmanDecember 7, 8:30-12:30 

Framingham, MA 


Conflict is part of our religious 

heritage, a normal part of  our democratic governance and of our collaborative faith. Done well, conflict can lead to progress -- yet done poorly, conflict damages people, relationships, congregations, and the potential of our religious movement.  


Eben Weitzman, PhD, Chair of the Department of Conflict Resolution at the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston, will offer us new ways of understanding congregational conflict -- at the structural, process, and interpersonal level. [Details] 



Friedman's Theory of Differentiated Leadership Made Simple.
Dr. Jonathan Camp's fun and funny video on leading well amidst of conflict, based on Edwin Friedman's book A Failure of Nerve. Great for personal or group use. 


Speed Leas' Levels of Conflict
A brief article introducing five levels of conflict and the values people try to serve in each, for good or ill. 


INSIGHTS INTO: Congregtional Conflict
An eight-page newsletter connecting conflict research with strategy for faith communities.


Conflict Resolution: Resolving Conflict Rationally and Effectively
This MindTools resource may present a rose-colored view of conflict management, but contains a number of helpful (cerebral) concepts.
An extensive collection of helpful online resources compiled by the UUA. 
Understanding "the Work" of Conflict - continued from above 

FEATUREIt's tempting to say that conflict is a good and necessary thing. To say, for example, that through congregational conflict we can:

  • clarify our thoughts and values,
  • increase our understanding of a situation and one another,
  • deepen group cohesion as we change one another for the better,
  • adapt our congregation to deal effectively with a evolving world,
  • discover our own identity amidst the diversity we value.

It's especially tempting to say these things because they're true. But they are not the whole truth.


Another part of the "whole truth" is that some conflict is stupid. That is, it's destructive and unnecessary fighting that (at best) wastes our energy and (at worst) does great harm to our congregations and the individuals and programs we serve.

It would be neato if all congregational conflict were the Hegelian sort -- with Thesis and Antithesis clashing until joined in a higher Synthesis -- that enlightening truth we found by combining our many perspectives. And some conflict is like that.


But sometimes we're undone by doltish personal and interpersonal factors -- those very human moments when entitled egos, misplaced loyalties, and masked pathologies come together in fearful personality clashes and struggles for power or turf.


Other conflicts are born of our ineffective processes: too little communication between leaders and congregants at-large (it's almost never too much!), budget forums that pit committees against one another, congregational meetings that mistake democracy for consensus.


Still other conflicts result from inadequate structures: email lists that privilege freedom over responsibility, governance confusion about how to balance transparency with trust, buildings and grounds with escalating expenses that steadily erode resources for congregational purpose.


By distinguishing healthy from unhealthy conflict and examining all the factors that contribute to a given conflict, we have our best shot at shifting conflict from harmful to less harmful...or even to generative conflict. But all of that is easier said than done. Frankly, UU leaders -- myself included -- need all the help we can get when it comes to understanding "the work" of conflict.


As Director of Congregational Development for your District, I'd be interested to hear what you've found helpful as you've done the work of conflict. And I'm particularly excited to share with you the upcoming workshop by Eben Weitzman, PhD (Columbia University), entitled "Transforming Congregational Conflict: Essential Leadership Skills."

Dr. Weitzman is a social and organizational psychologist who focuses on organizational conflict, intra-group conflict, and cultural differences in attitudes toward conflict. In addition to serving as Program Director in Conflict Resolution of UMass Boston's McCormack Graduate School, Dr. Weitzman works with leaders of cause- and mission-driven organizations on reducing internal conflict and increasing effective collaboration within their organizations

The workshop will look at the many ways conflict can arise from structural, process, and interpersonal levels in religious organizations, and best practices for addressing conflict on all these levels. Whether you're anticipating, in the midst of, or looking in the rearview mirror at congregational conflict, you'll leave better equipped to make decisions and take actions that promote congregational health in bumpy times. You can register here.


Conflict will always be with us. Some of us will continue to consider our deceased ferrets immediate family members whose portraits belong on the All Souls altar; others of us, um, not so much. More to the point: we will find few if any perfect structures in our congregations, and even fewer ideal processes, and even fewer fully enlightened human beings. So there will be no final or perfect solutions that lay conflict-healthy or unhealthy -- to rest.

The best we might do is to recognize the innate messiness involved in human communities, take responsibility for our own piece of the mess, and set about the work of moving the group forward and through, best we can, with trust in our faith and our interdependence. May it be so for all of us.