This peace-making Tool comes to EPF from a congregation whose name, the diocese and other details have been changed for confidentiality.
Step 1: Identify the Purpose of the Action
The purpose of our peace-making project at St. Timothy’s Mission was to improve relations with a member of the diocesan staff who had primary responsibility for the Mission and concern for its growth and status within the Diocese.
Three years ago, the congregation had gathered for a reception following a baptism of two adults. We had planned two baptisms to coincide with the Canon’s visit, which he had scheduled with us as an opportunity to talk with us about the future. Unfortunately, at the reception afterwards, he insulted several people with brusk, rude comments and embarrassed others there who were not Episcopalians by talking solely about the diocesan policies and politics.
When I arrived as Vicar six months later, I heard about this unpleasant occasion from enough people for me to realize that something needed to be done to repair the damage between the Mission and the Diocese.
I met with the Canon on two occasions, at his request, to prepare for his next visit, scheduled for October. On both occasions, I talked with him about the effect that his last visit had had. He already knew part of their displeasure, because the Bishop had told him about a letter he had received from an irate parishioner of St. Timothy’s. I assured the Canon that the mission really wanted to repair this relationship with him so that they could continue to work together in the future. As things stood now, the Mission was dreading his return visit in October. The Canon was agreeable and ready to apologize.
Step 2: Decide on a Format, with negotiation to include all parties
I suggested a format for that, and described a “circle process,” similar to those I have used in situations involving restorative justice with youthful offenders and their victims.
This circle process would be modified to fit a church setting. I suggested that we have an outside moderator to facilitate the circle process, but the Canon insisted that he be the one to facilitate it. I agreed to that, and then described the process in which parishioners with grievances would sit in the center of a circle comprised of everyone else, a Circle of Silent Witnesses. Those with grievances would read a brief summary of what had been troubling them about the occasion three years previously, finishing by stating what they needed in order to “move on” from that. Then the Canon would speak to each of them in turn. If those with grievances were satisfied with his response and felt able to give up their grievances, they would then burn them as a prayer in a candle flame provided.
Step 3: Prepare for the Encounter
The Canon was very interested in this process and asked me several questions while taking notes. At our final meeting, prior to his October visit, he seemed eager and looked forward to the circle.
At the Mission, we prepared for his visit. Four people knew right away that they wanted to speak. They wrote their short speeches on index cards, and I collected and saved them for the occasion.
Step 4: What to do if the Encounter is unexpectedly postponed or derailed
Two weeks before the scheduled meeting, the Canon went on personal leave and, at this point, is not expected to return to his duties. This eventuality left us at St. Timothy’s just hanging.
We decided, after seeking advice, to hold a Circle of Reconciliation even though the Canon would be absent. We opened the Annual Meeting of the Mission with the Circle of Reconciliation, exactly as planned for the October meeting that never took place. Occupying the chair that he would have occupied, I invited an outside mediator who listened carefully to each speaker and reflected back what she heard. The four speakers who had planned to speak did so, and then another four people came forward to sit in the center of the circle to say their piece. After speaking from the heart and expressing everything from anger and hurt to sorrow and regret, each person burned his or her card, turning the weight of the memories over to God and signaling a willingness to move on. One person said that she felt satisfied by imagining that the Canon would have apologized, had he been present. Another said that she hoped that the Canon was using his personal leave to get the counseling help that she felt he needed. We had speakers ranging from age 14 to age 90, with tears from several. We closed with prayer and lifted the dish of ashes toward heaven, with thanks to God for the courage to speak the truth and for the relief of our burden.
Step 5: Claiming the Experience of Reconciliation
Many people told me afterwards about how the Circle had positively affected them. God has removed the shame and hurt and replaced it with confidence and a readiness to step into our future, freed of the weight of some oppressive memories. It was an educational experience for everyone, age 13 and up.
There was some laughter during the Circle, when the burning cards started melting the candle and we worried aloud about the smoke alarms calling in the Fire Department.
There was also a lot of relief felt in giving up the cards and the grievances. And we were in a good frame of mind to do this, having just finished a nice pot-luck lunch.
This was an abbreviated living-out of Jesus’s advice in Matthew 18 for settling grievances: “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the fault. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If that person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church.”
Step 6: Incorporate the Experience of Reconciliation in New Forms of Ministry
The Mission is presently engaged in pioneering a restorative justice program with the police department in our city. This Reconciliation Circle has been an in-house example of restorative justice, only we used our imaginations to see the remorse and hear apologies we needed from our absent Canon.