Monday, October 13, 2014

The Diocese: The role a diocese should play with clergy in difficult calls

by The Rev. Canon Frank Logue

The impact of a person being terminated from a job leaves a crater in the life of that person and of his or her family. But when the involuntary leave-taking is from a church position to which the person felt called by God, the end result is much more damaging to all involved. Metaphorically speaking, there may not be identifiable body parts remaining unless proper support is in place. The Diocese has a vital role to play to move beyond conflict management in order to provide spiritual and vocational support for priests coming out of involuntary leave taking or as other essayists have alluded, forced resignations.

What the Diocese can do to maintain calls for the long term:
Teach Clergy Essential Skills—Seminary is an important formation experience, but it simply cannot provide all the tools a priest needs. Seminaries are very effective at teaching the core essentials of scripture, theology, church history and so on, but effective leadership of a congregation takes very different skills from these core essentials.

Conflict has always existed in the Church and will always be present. Knowing how to manage conflict is an essential skill and one that can lead to longer tenure for clergy. That’s why in the Diocese of Georgia new clergy also take a five-day workshops in Emotional Intelligence (EQHR) in their first year and in Conflict Management in their second year. Along with required coaching and spiritual direction and the leadership training provided by the Church Development Institute, these additional training's help priests learn more about their own personal tendencies and understand better how to use their gifts (use of self) in parish leadership, especially in times of conflict.

We are not alone. Other dioceses are likewise looking at ways to build this awareness in their priests through additional training. These skills are in fact best learned after seminary when the priest is engaged in parish ministry and is more open to what she or he does not know about leading.

Teach Vestries Healthy Practices—Every vestry should understand the unhealthy effects of triangulation and anonymous information. Congregations are well served by the Diocese providing this training to new vestry members. By the Diocese teaching, and the Bishop and staff consistently modeling this behavior, wardens and vestries can join their clergy in healthy communication.

Not permitting triangulation or accepting anonymous information helps everyone talk openly and honestly about the issues they are facing. This should be a part of regularly offered diocesan training for vestry members to teach best practices and proactively address behavior that can be damaging to the congregation’s life.

What the Diocese can do when things head south:

The Bishop’s Office Should Engage the Situation—When the diocesan staff is aware of significant issues in a congregation, the bishop and priest should meet face to face and consider together how best to respond. This is critical. For a variety of reasons, both priests and lay leaders are quite hesitant to involve the Diocese. Could it be, that such hesitancy manifests because Diocesan staffs in general do not have a clear way of dealing with conflict?  Could it also be that such hesitancy is born from the perception that the Diocese is not seen standing by clergy in times of conflict and that such a perception leads to priests and lay leaders alike keeping them out the loop until it is too late to intervene? These are questions that bear further consideration as we look at all parts of the system in such conflicts.  Such questions, however, does not absolve me and other diocesan staff, as there are steps we can take before, during, and after such incidents.

However, once the conflict level rises beyond a disagreement to a contest where people are taking sides, merely praying about it or looking the other way assures that the conflict will escalate.

This is where the Bishop’s office must be proactive involving its direct work or work with a consultant. In some cases, it may mean supporting the priest through a process of taking leave from the congregation. In every case, priests should know how their bishop stands with them. In such intractable conflict, it is overly facile simply to blame the priest. Yes, she or he must be accountable for his or her share of the conflict, but congregational leaders also need to be held to equal account for their share.

If the conflict points to a clear violation of canons including illegal use of funds, inappropriate sexual relationships, and similar matters, the canons on church discipline (Title IV) give direction to what happens next. Title IV, when applied, assumes an offense has been committed. What if no offense has been committed? What if there is no "conduct unbecoming as a member of the clergy?" In Title IV cases, the diocesan staff makes provision that the priest and his or her family has pastoral support and then follows the process.

This essay though, is instead focused on situations of conflict outside of such discipline. The Church, in such cases, has no formal provision for handling such situations.

 Separation Agreement and After—In cases where the pastoral relationship cannot be maintained, the diocesan staff should work on a settlement that takes into account the length of service of the priest. With the priest’s severance arranged, the role shifts to making sure the priest has a spiritual director as well as a therapist who can help sort through the many issues that arise when a call ends involuntarily. As I shared earlier, such leave taking leaves a crater not only in the priest's life but in the life of the family also affected by such outcomes. The Bishop or staff should not do this work, but they can make sure the priest does have this needed support.

Likewise, it is time to begin working with the parish on what comes next. Often, this is to secure an interim rector or vicar who is fully appraised of what has occurred and who is given the time to do the hard work of creating a safe environment for the next call, which can take two years or more. The key task for the interim is to make sure that healthy practices are taught and modeled and unhealthy behaviors are not abided.

The Next Call—What happens next is not so easily solved. A priest, injured emotionally and spiritually by a bad experience with a congregation, may not be in a place to move immediately to a new call and yet, the priest still needs to earn a living. Reticence to work with a priest coming off a difficult call can add unnecessary insult to injury. There are a lot of reasons why a call does not work out, including issues in the congregation being avoided or hidden in the call process or even the call being a bad fit from the beginning.

A priest who has been called by God and had that call affirmed by the Church and been formed for ministry should not be branded as ineffective and eliminated from calling processes.

Instead, this is where careful attention should be paid to the gifts of the priest and finding the right fit. At the same time proper support needs to be in place as the next call will certainly set off triggers from the previous conflict. The priest needs someone to process this with on an ongoing basis so that the new parish is not held accountable for issues from the previous congregation, even as the priest seeks to learn from the past.

… … ...

This brief article can only sketch out some ideas that bear further reflection. I don’t pretend to have all of the answers and know my colleagues in other dioceses also struggle to get it right when working with churches and clergy in conflict. I trust that you can see my bias toward further formation for vestries and priests as well as support in conflicted situations and, when need be, following the dissolution of a pastoral relationship.

 In practice, the training and support is for lay leaders and clergy alike as we seek to support healthy interactions in our churches. There is no question that conflict will arise, but if all know that priests and lay leaders will find support from their diocese, then we can lessen the harmful impact of a difficult call.

The Rev. Canon Frank Logue is Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Georgia

The above essay was written out of a partnership between The Episcopal Women’s Caucus (EWC) and The Network of Episcopal Clergy (NECA.) This project developed following a watershed moment when in January 2014 the Diocese of Newark passed a resolution seeking that their Bishop appoint a task force to explore Dignity of Work issues related to clergy and workplace bullying.  This essay was written as part of a collection of essays written to begin to address the challenge of challenging calls and the issue of workplace bullying. While the views in this essays are the authors own and we acknowledge that no one essay will be able to identify all the issues involved, our hope is that in and  through the collection of pieces we might support what has begun locally in the Diocese of Newark and more importantly, further the conversation in the wider Episcopal church. As these essays are both sponsored and being released jointly by both NECA and The EWC please read all the essays at The Episcopal Women’s Caucus blog and  Network of Episcopal Clergy Associations New website.

If you are a clergy person in the midst of a challenging call or you have gone through it and would like to see the beginnings of a set of resources that might support you, please see the  NECA Resource Page

If you would like to write about your own experience of a challenging call or forced resignation for posting on the Episcopal Women’s Caucus blog please send your essay to

Monday, October 6, 2014

Devolution: The Dynamics of Power and Permission

by The Rev. Dr. David Gortner

Jessie (we will call her), in her mid-thirties, was a newly ordained priest working in an urban parish as curate, and had taken responsibility for reshaping the training of Sunday School teachers. Ironically, it was her work on creating policies and procedures for training teachers in sexual abuse prevention that started trouble. Most teachers signed on for the training, willingly or somewhat begrudgingly. But one teacher, Burl, a larger white-haired man in his mid-fifties, staunchly refused. Jessie had a brief conversation in a downstairs hallway with Burl, outside the Sunday School rooms. Burl verbally refused to take the training. Jessie responded that he would no longer be able to be a teacher, and turned to walk away. Burl hit her hard, with his open hand, on her back. Jessie called out for help, and Burl walked away.

Jessie told the rector, George—who decided not to take any immediate action against Burl, so as “not to make a scene.”

Three months later, Burl was arrested for incest against his young daughter (at the time, around 12). It had been going on for at least two years.

The NECA initiative began as an attempt to raise awareness about a little dark secret of church life and ministry: the unfortunate situations of clergy who have been treated roughly, unkindly, manipulatively, or even cruelly by congregations. Significant light has been cast on the problem of various forms of abuse by clergy of congregationslight that indeed needed to flood some of the darkest places in church life and ministry. Further light is being shed on varied forms of manipulation and neglect by clergy of congregations. But the periodic abuse, manipulation, or mistreatment of clergy by the people in the congregations they serve has lurked in the shadows of church life and ministrylargely unaddressed. But people are beginning to recognize that this is a problem that should no longer be ignored. As is the case with situations involving clergy misconduct, in the case of congregations (or other ministry settings) mistreating clergy, the church needs to develop practices of support for those who have been harmed, protect and educate those who might become potential targets, set clear expectations and boundaries for people who might potentially mistreat others, and create practices that can be easily learned to help create cultures and environments of safety.
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I want to invite you to consider mistreatment through a series of examples that together illustrate the messy interplay of power and of permission (perceived as given and at times unintentionally given) by the people in a group or community.

Eighteen years ago, I sat as a seminarian for training in prevention of sexual misconduct, mandatory for anyone leading, teaching, or offering care to others in the church. There was a perspective presented to us from the Nathan Network(1) that sexual abuse and misconduct requires the unfortunate confluence of three key elements: a potential perpetrator, a potential victim, and a potential setting. Prevention of abuse and misconduct requires organizational as well as pastoral eyes on all three of these elements and the enactment of policies and procedures to set clear barriers to potential perpetrators, strengthen and educate potential victims, and expose and safeguard potential settings.

Across the Episcopal Church and other denominations, training in abuse prevention has increased and has frequently included these key points. The Diocese of Virginia has added to its misconduct prevention training a profound awareness-raising documentary on elder abuse. The video reveals ways in which perpetrators of financial, verbal, and emotional abuse pick up on perceived weakness in the elders supposedly in their care, amplify the weakness in order to gain more power in the relationship, and then seize control and disempower their elders. Without intentional means of developing watchful eyes among neighbors, colleagues, and neighborhood professionals, the isolated settings of many elderly adults amplifies the potential for perpetrators to find their mark and exact a heavy toll.

So, here again are the three elements at play: perpetrator, victim, and setting.

The interplay of these three elements is helpful not just when considering the realities of clergy sexual misconduct or of elder abuse, but also when considering the issue of mistreatment of clergy by congregations, schools, or other organizations. And the interplay of these elements reveals much about the dynamics of power and permission. And it is these dynamics that find their way into relationships, board rooms, organizations, and communitiesinside and outside the church, and (although we might not want to admit it) too often close to home.

Power, the power-hungry, and the powder-keg of power imbalances

Neither power nor permission is simply an objective reality. Each is also a deeply subjective reality, emerging from what we perceive (or choose to perceive) and what we desire. Each is also an interpersonal or inter-group reality, rooted and revealed in how people interact with each other. Even situations or settings themselvesand people supposedly not involved in situationscan communicate messages about power and permission. There is a reason, for instance, that church offices and rooms are expected to have windows and doors open to allow visibility, and why church nurseries are expected to have two nursery care workers present at the same time. These kinds of safeguards eliminate or minimize the possibility for distorted perceptions of permission in settings of potential vulnerability.

Let’s begin by considering power. I want to be clear at the outset—Power in itself is not bad. To take a line from community organizers, power is the capacity to act. A basic desire for power, to exercise agency, to make and pursue choices, to influence the course of events, is as fundamental to our human life as a desire to belong. And it is essential for building and sustaining vibrant ministry and mission.

But problems begin to arise when there is an imbalance between parties in power that they hold (or think they hold), perceive in others, and desire for themselves. Potential perpetrators, bullies, manipulators, and other aggressors hold a strong desire to wield power over othersto act in order to win over those with less power. When it comes to power, their perceptions and desires are distorted, with a heightened interest in discovering and using power imbalance. And so, these types of people also scan the environment for opportunities to act due to signs of weakness, acquiescence, or unawareness in otherssigns of potential power imbalance and unintended permission.

When we consider ugly situations that arise in churches and communities, it is tempting to focus solely on the perpetrators, bullies, or manipulatorsin the church, resorting to scripts of “those terrible priests,” “those wicked groups of slanderous laypeople,” or “that priest-killer church.” And, indeed, there are the Burls of the world out there, and among us. But focusing solely on the “bad apples” does not help us consider other contributing factors to ugly situationsespecially the environments in which ugly situations occur.

The truth is, any one of us carries potential to become a perpetrator, bully, or manipulator. And, any one of us can become a victim. Situations themselves can cultivate the potential bully and potential victim in us, and groom us into roles that allow abusive, manipulative, or cruel interactions to occur. This can happen when the various actors and the setting itself create a situation in which power inequities are tolerated and expected, checks and balances are absent, and responsibility is held loosely.

Philip Zimbardo rose to fame as a social psychologist for his famous Stanford Prison Experiment (2), in which good Stanford college students were given roles to play as prison guards and prisoners in what was to be a two-week simulation of prison life. The simulation had to be terminated after six days, when the student “guards” began to act with impunity and increasing sadistic aggression, and the student “prisoners” fell toward increased anxiety and depression. In his book, The Lucifer Effect (3), Zimbardo draws parallels between this simulation and the real-life abuse at Abu Gharaib prisonand argues that it is the setting and situation that elicits the worst from people. Zimbardo argues convincingly that abuse will emerge even among otherwise “decent” people—whenever there is a very clear power disparity, permission that is given explicitly to the more powerful to wield power against the weaker party, and further permission that is given implicitly through the absence of oversight and of safeguard policies.

Correcting such imbalances in power is what motivates community organizers to muster people together to exercise their strength. Community organizers recognize that the victims themselves can perpetuate and exacerbate the situation by their own inaction, their own failure to muster and wield power in response to those who are mistreating or manipulating them. It is not their fault that they fail to muster and wield power. They have never been taught. Indeed, part of the forces at play in imbalanced contexts is that the weaker people have been enculturated to accept what little they havethrough rationalizations, cultivation of fear of losing the little they have, and lack of education and training to do otherwise. But, if such a group of people fails to discover and muster its collective power, and find significant allies, it will not be able combat the mistreatments, abuses, and manipulations of those who wield power over them. And every victory by the perpetrator that goes unchallenged is in turn perceived as acquiescence and permission, thus inviting a further incursion.

The dynamics of power and permission are strong forces in individual and group relationships. Leaders and organizations that ignore or fail to consider the possibility of such dynamics choose a path of perileven if in the name of, and with the wish for, the “peaceable kingdom” in which such dynamics are not supposed to occur.

Increasing strength and savvy in potential victims

Clergy themselves can unintentionally contribute to unhealthy dynamics of power and permission between themselves and the congregations they serve, starting with the first interactions during
interviews, contractual agreements, and the first few weeks and months of ministry together. And these dynamics are set in motion by how clergy and congregational lay leaders and members perceive one another and communicate with each other.

This is part of what my colleague, John Dreibelbis, and I discovered in our nationwide study of Episcopal clergy leadership during the late 1990s and early 2000s (4). In this study, we conducted five-hour interviews with 66 rectors and vicars who were nominated by peer leaders and bishops in their diocese, either as positive change-agents (“effective”) or negative change-agents (“struggling” or “mismatched”) in the congregations to which they had been calledpriests who made an obvious difference in congregations, for better or for worse. We also surveyed active 457 rectors and vicars across the country, in parishes and communities of all sizes. In this study, we found that initial perceptions and impressions, and the dance of how much to reveal, withhold, and ignorefor both priest and congregationset in motion the beginnings of what soon become patterns of perception, expectation, communication, and action. For instance, a priest’s negative impressions of a congregation as “elitist,” “hostile,” “deflated,” or “hurting” each set in motion different choices in what to expect from people, what words and images to choose in communicating with congregants, and what paths to take and avoid in ministry in that place. Likewise, positive perceptions of a congregation as “warm,” “vigorous,” “honest,” or “kind” set in motion different choices and pathways for a priest in regard to what to anticipate from people, the best ideas and phrases to speak, and directions to pursue in developing ministry with people.

Like power and permission, perception is far from purely objective. We perceive what we pay attention to. We pay attention to what is important to us. Perception is in no small part a matter of choice.

There were some important differences between effective and struggling priests in their initial perceptions (as they recalled) of the congregations they were currently serving, during the interview process and early months of ministry. I want to highlight one important difference. When asked what stood out about the congregations they had chosen to serve and were currently serving, effective clergy were twice as likely to name honesty and willingness to take risks as positive qualities of their congregations, which drew them to those places. In contrast, struggling clergy were twice as likely to name warmth and welcome as primary positive qualities of their congregations, which helped them decide to go to those places.

These differing perceptions of effective and struggling clergy speak not only to possible differences in the congregations; they speak to marked differences in the orienting values and concerns of these priests. Clergy who looked for evidence of honesty and risk-taking in congregations were themselves
also more assertive and direct in their communication. Clergy who sought evidence of warmth and welcome in congregations were themselves more prone to focus on giving and seeking inclusion and acceptance.
I cannot stress enough the importance of this difference. How these clergy perceived their congregations shaped their communication with the people of these congregations. And, through communication, priests’ chosen perceptions influenced not only their own thoughts and behavior, but also influenced the behaviors and thoughts of the perceivedthe members of these congregations. The same can likely be said of how congregation members perceived their chosen priests, how they shaped their own communications accordingly, and how this influences and shapes the behaviors and thoughts of their priests.

Why is honesty and risk an important set of qualities for clergy to seek in congregations? And, why might it be more important and essential than the qualities of warmth and welcome?

The two differing orientations lead to a host of different communications between priest and congregation. Let me offer one example. Kerrick, in his interview at a mid-sized congregation, asked... “Well, I didn’t ask, ‘Do you want to grow?’ because every congregation will say, ‘Yes, of course.’ Instead, I asked, ‘Are you willing to take the risks that are necessary for change?’ There was silence for a bit. Then an older man sitting in the back got up and said, ‘Well, I think we’re supposed to answer “yes.”

But I don’t think we’re quite there yet.’ And there was a little ripple of laughter, of recognition.” Kerrick
took the job—“because I knew they were going to be honest with me.” Kerrick was direct in his questioning, and sharply attuned in his perception and interpretation of people’s responses in a way that related directly to values critical to him for healthy and vibrant collaboration between himself and the congregation. A priest focused more on warmth and welcome would likely not ask this question or respond positively to the less than enthusiastic response of the older congregation member.

What we choose to focus on shapes our perceptions. And perception (as it is shaped by what we desire and expect) shapes communicationwhat is said and left unsaid, how things are said, and what is projected through facial expressions and posture.

An orientation toward honesty and directness communicates a double-edged expectationthat I will be honest and direct, and that I expect you to do the same. An orientation primarily toward warmth and welcome communicates its own double-edged expectationthat I will be warm and welcoming to you, and that you will do the same for me...and, that we will avoid as much as possible those things that might unsettle this warmth. From these differing expectations, very different patterns of communication unfold.
Admittedly, there is risk in the kind of approach that Kerrick took in his interview. One might not get the job, being so direct. On the other hand, by not asking the question, one runs the risk of finding out later rather than finding out now. Even more importantly, by not asking the question, one has unintentionally acquiesced and given permission to the congregation to leave certain subjects undiscussed and undiscussible (5).

This is how patterns of communication get set in motion. The things left unsaid that are nonetheless perceivedusually, by both parties. Communication can then become an indirect cat-and-mouse game, a way to test the waters for how people will handle power and permissioneven while veiled within sincere demonstrations of warmth and welcome.

I cannot overstress the value of being direct and clear in a way that communicates one’s own position while inviting others to express their own positions honestly. This form of <strong>artful directness</strong> is a skill to be developed and practiced. Unfortunately, clergy are not trained or encouraged to develop this skill. Indeed, systemically, clergy are often discouraged from being overly direct, in favor of simply listening and receiving whatever someone else has to offer. While this is important training for deep pastoral care in the face of life’s difficulties, it is not training that translates directly to communicating a position of honesty and directness in leadership.

From our surveys, we found that the general pattern of leadership among Episcopal priests includes a tendency toward avoidance and accommodation rather than assertiveness in the face of conflict, and a tendency toward group dependency and away from self-confidence and decisivenessin spite of off- the-charts creativity! I have watched this pattern repeat itself, with even more intensified disparity, among recently ordained priests and pastors in their first few years of ministry. Avoidance and accommodation are especially favorite positions of curates and assistant priests, who are taught quickly by circumstance to keep their heads downagain, despite high creativity. We have found, consistently over time, that we as Episcopal priests are a “talented but tenuous” bunch.

So, with this insight in mind, let us return to the situation of our concern, in which priest, congregants, and setting contribute to the potential for abuse or mistreatment of the priest. I want to begin with tenuousness. Tenuousness hesitancy, uncertainty, unintended vulnerability, indirectness these are things that people can “sniff out.” People who are enticed by weakness in others, who seek to test and push the limits of their own aggression or manipulation, will know that a potential target has been found. And, over time, even “decent” people who would not otherwise attempt to seize or wield power over others may nonetheless take the unintended permission.

Turning from tenuousness toward tenacity and artful directness in ministry can be challenging work— risky not merely in terms of shifting one’s relationship with the congregation, but also internally, in terms of changing how one thinks about engaging the world. This kind of work for clergy requires a very honest group of fellow adults, ideally from varied professions, who are wrestling honestly with the same issuesand cognitive and behavioral practice with a solid therapist or coach. It takes practice to develop and naturalize the art of loving but honest directness.

I hope the reason for this emphasis is clear. By strengthening and educating the potential victim (in this case, the clergy) with greater resources in assertiveness, directness, and strength-based leadership (typically not emphasized in clergy development), we can introduce different forms of interaction and communication into the playing field, and help clergy communicate their own strength and set expectations for how people in the congregation will communicate with them and with each other. By not strengthening and educating the potential victim, we run the risk of clergy leaving important matters undiscussed or outright avoided, which sets a pattern of acquiescence and permission in motion, which smells like the kind of weakness to which the power-hungry will be drawn to wield power.

Building safeguarding habits in the church

There is the other critical element in these dynamics of power and permissionthe congregation as a whole body. While there may be clearly identified abusers, bullies, manipulators, or perpetrators in a situation of clergy mistreatment, there is also the congregation in its entirety that bears responsibility. Acquiescence and permission is given latently or blantantly by the congregation (or other ministry setting) in which abuse or mistreatment repeatedly occurs. What, then, is the aptitude of key members and leaders in a congregation to exercise leadership of the communal culture? That is, how well- equipped are key members and leaders to manage and engage conflict effectively, and to redirect or contain those who wish to wield power over others?

In the absence of clear directive leadership from within the congregation itself, a conflict arising from a vocal individual or group can take center stage and co-opt a meeting. As a new associate, I witnessed a spokesman for a strong minority in a congregation derail an annual meeting by inserting himself into the planned proceedings in order to levy an attack against the 9:00 a.m. family service. The rector acquiesced, barely containing himself by writing “Breathe – Breathe - Breathe” on his planned annual
address. No other key layleaders stepped into the breach to redirect or contain the unplanned spokesman and to set a proper time and place for the issue to be addressed. The members of the family service, taken by surprise, did not know how to respond. And so, the spokesman held sway and the strong minority evoked deep consternation, anxiety, and confusion in the parish. It took a year to clean up this messthis time, with leadership much more clearly exercised and exerted by key lay leaders as well as by clergy.

This happens in schools as welland even in seminaries. I observed one seminary president present a bold new plan and then invite response from faculty. When there was no response after about twenty seconds, the president said, “Hearing no response, I will take that as general agreement.” At this point, I spoke up (thunder-struck at my senior colleagues’ unintended acquiescence) and said, “You can’t take our silence as agreement. We are thinking and formulating our response. Let me give you mine...” At another time, I watched another seminary president repeatedly drawn into argument with one vocal (but solo) faculty member who opposed this president’s leadership at every turn. I suggested to the president, during a break, that perhaps inviting other faculty members to respond to the opponent’s concerns might be more constructive and move the situation out of the staged “faculty vs. president” game.

William Ury wrote an important book that gives insight into how important “uninvolved” people are in conflicts. The book, The Third Side: Why We Fight and How We Can Stop (6), along with its accompanying website, is an invaluable tool for developing a congregation’s capacities in preventing, resolving, and containing conflicts. In doing so, a congregation’s leaders learn to exercise wise and artful assertiveness in setting boundaries for how people exercise power in the congregation.

In this book, Ury poses the question, “Why, in the midst of conflict, do we tend to forget all the other people in a community who are not the parties in conflict?” In almost all situations of conflict, there are not only the two opposing sides. There is a “third side”—the large group of people within the community, and an even larger group of interested people immediately outside but related to the community, who can and should hold the conflicted parties in a space of responsible dialogue. The “third side” is a practiced space of conflict engagement for the whole organization or culture, a space that (with practice) people will naturally move to occupy when they see battle-lines form. The “third side” creates a space for listening and hearing conflicted parties, but also creates a crucible that can contain and manage the conflict by also communicating the consequences of walking away. But the “third side” also is a cultural norm of attentiveness and watchfulness, allowing for anticipation and prevention of conflict.

I have worked with congregations and with ordained and lay leaders of parishes and schools using Ury’s tools. It is remarkable to see how people respond to the invitation to more direct engagement of their own powerand their collective powerto redirect and contain power gone awry. Priests and do this kind of work as well, to develop the capacities of key lay leaders and vestries in their congregations.

Strengthening the “third side” in congregations involves helping people identify what they already know as basic practices, naming people who are particularly good at specific skills, and then practicing the skills together through role-playing of familiar situations:

Anticipating and preventing conflicts (or addressing covert or latent conflicts) by helping people address needs in their lives (and in the faith community itself), by teaching and establishing principles for respectful dialogue and mutual problem-solving, by directly engaging people in conversation about challenging decisions before any big “decisive” meeting, and by building bridges between groups.
Resolving and bringing to conclusion the overt conflicts that emerge, by mediating, re-framing, and questioning the arguments of those in conflict, by exercising responsibility to correct imbalance of power and to make decisions for or against a position, and by working to heal wounded spirits and broken relationships.
Containing or limiting destructive or chronic conflicts, by staying alert and attentive to signs of possible escalation and naming provocations for what they are, by setting boundaries and limits on fighting, and, if necessary, to enforce the peace.

To Ury’s three levels of managing conflict, I would add a fourth level:
Agitating or arousing when there are unidentified or unadmitted conflicts that nonetheless are having real impact in the life of a community and its people.

This returns to the matter of learning artful directness.

People do not know to be watchful unless they are trained and enculturated to do so. For some congregationsespecially those given to avoidance or acquiescence, or those recovering from periods of ripping conflictthere may be significant need for basic education, training, and practice. For others, there may be people who already exercise the function of the “third side,” who can teach others and foster an enduring culture. Clergy themselves may need to take some responsibility in helping to foster and strengthen “third side” practices in the congregation and, in larger parishes, among the staff. And, this is critical work for newly arrived clergy to take up immediately with key members and leaders, to create a team-led, dispersed effort in fostering a culture of healthy communication. More centrally, diocesan leaders and staff should take a central role in engaging vestries and select lay leaders in a process of such development.
To neglect this part of lay and staff leadership development, or to assume that it is already in place, can help create the very setting for abuse or mistreatment that we have been attempting to address. To neglect the development of “third side” capacity in a congregation is akin to failure to put windows in office and classroom doors or to make sure two adults are in every Sunday School classroomit is a form of latent permission.

Consider again the situation of Jessie and her assaultive encounter with Burl, at the beginning of this article. Jessie did everything right. She was direct and clear, and was attempting to set up clear guidelines. What, then, went wrong? The congregation as a whole, and the rector as leader, failed to support Jessie and set clear barriers and consequences for Burlfailures of directness and assertiveness by the rector, and failures in “third side” containment and prevention by the congregation.
You will note that I have not addressed the role of the potential abuser, perpetrator, or manipulator in this essay. The history of therapeutic treatment with perpetrators is, to say the least, not promising. People like Burl are, indeed, among us. For those who are habitually drawn to seizing and wielding power over others, clarity about a no-tolerance policy is the best “treatment.” But, I am also deeply hesitant to label too many individuals as permanent sociopaths or perpetrators. I am convinced more by Zimbardo’s argument that the arrangements of power and permission in certain settings can open Pandora’s box, luring “decent” people down paths that they otherwise would not enter. There is, of course, no excuse for this abusive wielding of power. The perpetrator bears full responsibility for actions takenand hence, there are no excuses, there is only confession and commitment to amendment of life.

That said, there are unintended consequences of acquiescence, permission-giving, and retreat-from- power on the part of potential victim and surrounding community, that help to create the perfect setting for such mistreatment and abuse to unfold.

In the end, a fundamental part of the problem is a spiritual crisis of our own creation. In our acquiescence to a false theology of a “peacenik Jesus” and a “peaceable kingdom” where there is not supposed to be conflict, we have denied and avoided conflict, and we have dissembled and avoided direct honestyand thus we have not developed our capacities to engage conflict and exercise control over conflict. We have given ourselves to a lie, and in the process have allowed those muscles and mental pathways for healthy directness in communication and strong, wise engagement in conflict to atrophy or to remain undeveloped. This is true of both clergy and laypeople. In so many of our churches, we might all be given the title, “Talented but tenuous.” This smells like blood in the water, and can arouse the shark in any of us, given the right circumstances of power imbalance and of latent and blatant permission.

(1)The Nathan Network collaborated with the Church Pension Group to produce the document, Model Policies for the Prevention of Sexual Exploitation of Adults (2008), available at the CPG website: <a href=" E38DBB7F33C4670F/showMeta/0/?label=Model%20Policies%3A%20Preventing%20Sexual%20Exploitati on"> E38DBB7F33C4670F/showMeta/0/?label=Model%20Policies%3A%20Preventing%20Sexual%20Exploitati on</a>.
(2)Zimbardo, P. G. (1971). The power and pathology of imprisonment. Congressional Record. (Serial No. 15, 1971-10-25). Hearings before Subcommittee No. 3, of the Committee on the Judiciary, House of Representatives, Ninety-Second Congress, First Session on Corrections, Part II, Prisons, Prison Reform and Prisoner's Rights: California. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
See also Zimbardo’s website on the experiment: <a href=""></a>
(3)Zimbardo, P. (2007). The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. Random House.
(4)Summaries of results from the study by Dreibelbis and Gortner are found in the following articles:
Dreibelbis, J. L. (2010). From Maintaining to Building Communities of Faith. Anglican Theological Review, 92, 147-155.
Dreibelbis, J. L., &amp; Gortner, D. T. (2002, November). Talented but Tenuous: A Profile of Clergy Temperaments and Leadership Skills. Seabury-Western Theological Seminary / The Lilly Endowment.
Gortner, D. (2009). Looking at Leadership Beyond Our Own Horizon. Anglican Theological Review, 91, 119-142.
Gortner, D. (2010). Retraining Ourselves in Thought and Action: A Thematic Exploration of Leadership Literature. Anglican Theological Review, 92, 189-213.
(5)To dig more deeply into the issues of communication barriers within organizational culture, consider reading Chris Argyris’s classic, Overcoming Organizational Defenses (Prentice Hall, 1990), or Anita Farber-Robertson’s great Alban Institute book, Learning While Leading (2000).
(6)Ury, W. (2000). The Third Side. Penguin.
See also Ury’s website for helpful downloadable resources: <a href=""></a>.
<strong>The Rev. Dr. David T. Gortner</strong> is the Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program and Professor of Evangelism &amp; Congregational Leadership at <a href="">Virginia Theological Seminary</a>.

<em>The above essay was written out of a partnership between The Episcopal Women’s Caucus (EWC) and The Network of Episcopal Clergy (NECA.) This project developed following a watershed moment when in January 2014 the <a href="">Diocese of Newark passed a resolution</a> seeking that their Bishop appoint a task force to explore Dignity of Work issues related to clergy and workplace bullying. This essay was written as part of a collection of essays written to begin to address the challenge of challenging calls and the issue of workplace bullying. While the views in this essays are the authors own and we acknowledge that no one essay will be able to identify all the issues involved, our hope is that in and through the collection of pieces we might support what has begun locally in the Diocese of Newark and more importantly, further the conversation in the wider Episcopal church. As these essays are both sponsored and being released jointly by both NECA and The EWC please read all the essays at <a href="">The Episcopal Women’s Caucus blog</a> and <a

href="">The Care for Clergy in Difficult Calls Writing Project</a>.</em>
If you are a clergy person in the midst of a challenging call or you have gone through it and would like to see the beginnings of a set of resources that might support you, please see the <a href="">NECA Resource Page</a>
If you would like to write about your own experience of a challenging call or forced resignation for posting on the Episcopal Women’s Caucus blog please send your essay to