The Great In-Between

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

The Great In-Between

“We are not who we were, and yet we are not who we will become.”
– Carrie Newcomer, singer/songwriter

Welcome to the great in-between. The recent national election reveals exactly how far we are from being the Church that truly represents the Kingdom of God here on earth.

We all survived past elections. Some of us grumbled and some of us celebrated, but we fairly quickly got on with our lives. This feels very different. The gaping divide among Americans shows no signs of ending. We are further apart than ever before, gathering and commiserating mostly with those who agree with us, getting our news from sources that agree with us, and doubling down on our convictions that we are right. Which means others must be wrong. And where are the Moravians in all of this? We’ve been pretty quiet, haven’t we?

Bishop Wayne Burkette recently expressed his view that many Moravian Churches are ‘purple’ – i.e. filled with a mix of political points of view. Unlike churches where all views are identical, he said, we are challenged by the real stories and real faith of people who view the world very differently from ourselves. Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.’ (Thanks to Brother John Jackman for using this in a post-election sermon.)

While this could be a positive for Moravians, it is a very fine line to walk. On the one hand, being purple might make our churches safe spaces, free of the turmoil and high emotion that often comes along with political discussion. On the other hand, it leaves many of us feeling empty and paralyzed, unsure how we engage in real community with those who love Christ with us. In our efforts to keep peace and maintain relationships, we avoid discussing difficult issues with one another.

What IS the Moravian way forward here?

Let’s face it, we modern Moravians are not those early, radical members of the ancient Unity who defied the state church of its day to form the first voluntary, peace church. We were early to embrace the idea of spiritual equality, where women, children, and people of color were considered equal in the eyes of God. We were early to head to the furthest ends of the earth, reaching out to the marginalized and those no one else wanted to even recognize as human.

We are not who we were.

hardthingsarehard

We are not who we will become either. We like the idea of returning to our roots, or at least letting those roots inform our faith today, but we struggle to live into that reality. The world can be a frightening place these days and we are uncertain how to proceed. It is easier to sit in our beautiful, not-quite-full sanctuaries and sing our familiar hymns, raising money to pay off the new organ or redecorate the parlor. We talk about our desire to grow and yet when those different from us appear in our sanctuaries, we shift uncomfortably in our pews. We talk about being missional, and then hold another chicken pie dinner and call it a day.

What is next for the church? How will God call us to a new thing, one that will challenge and maybe even frighten us, but also lead us to a new, Spirit-filled reality of faith, love, and hope?

This election, while divisive and unprecedented, actually provides us with an opportunity to come together in our “purple-ness,” move out of the great in-between and toward a future filled with grace and hope.

There are no easy answers. A newly-installed sign in my office reads: Hard things are hard. Ain’t that the truth!

Bishop Sam Gray provided us with some guidance in a recent post: “No matter what happens … in this election, Jesus Christ is still our Chief Elder. We must never allow partisan politics or personal preferences to get in the way of the mission that Jesus has entrusted… to us!”

To continue this mission entrusted to us, we must love each other. Only we can love each other. Only we can figure out new and different ways of being the church together. We won’t be able to do it if we can’t even talk to each other. We must listen in a way so as to recognize one another, and we must recognize everyone. We need each other now more than ever. (Here’s an example of how one church is doing this.)

And then, “We must be brave enough to speak and to listen, to share our hopes and our fears, and to remember that when we care for the least, whoever we consider to be least, we do it for Christ. The church has work to do, for ourselves, for those on whatever margins, and for the world around us.” (Brother Riddick Weber at Moravian Theological Seminary during a recent chapel service.)

And we do have all that we need to carry on Christ’s work in the world today. Ephesians 3: 20-21 (from The Message) lays it out for us. “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church!
Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus!
Glory down all the generations!
Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes!”

Oh yes.

It is easy to complain about what leaders and governments are doing or not doing. But just like it was for our Moravian ancestors, our work as Christians is clear: Love our neighbors as ourselves. Love our enemies. Do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with our God.

Let’s get to work as the church Jesus loves, moving closer to the people Jesus loves.


rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC. 

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Disunity in the Unity: Resolving Church Conflict

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BY RUTH COLE BURCAW |

In my work, ironically, I hear a lot about disunity. You’d think that those of us who come together to praise God, to grow spiritually, and to serve the world could find a way to do so without conflict. But like every other church in the world, we fight.

And I’m not talking about disunity around big, difficult issues or the essentials, though that happens too. I’m talking about disunity around the little things that somehow become big things . . . the color of the choir robes, whether we sit or stand for that hymn right before the sermon, what to do about ineffective volunteers, how to handle a difficult person, and more. You know what I mean.

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And all too often, we find ourselves unable or unwilling to address that conflict in any meaningful way. “That’s none of my business,” “The preacher should handle that,” “If I say anything, I’ll make them mad,” “It’s not that big a deal,” or “I’m just going to ignore that until it (or they) go away.”

In our church sanctuaries, fellowship halls, and meeting rooms, we face crucial confrontations and we’re not sure what to say. So, we stay silent, or engage in gossip, or go on the attack. When we fail to hold others accountable in ways that are both direct and respectful, what often begins as simple disagreements can grow into chronic dysfunction.

We as a Church already face numerous, significant challenges from outside our walls. Can we really afford to follow that sacred adage “in all things, love,” even when it’s clear that too much of that “love” and not enough accountability are actually tearing us apart?

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Consider this: not all conflict is bad. Most of us recognize that productive conflict can improve and even deepen our relationships, particularly in friendship, marriage, and business. But somehow, when it comes to church, we avoid conflict in the name of love, or preserving friendship, or saving time. In fact, open debate and disagreement often produces the best possible solution in the shortest amount of time.

How do we overcome the fear of conflict?

  • Acknowledge that conflict can be productive and that our natural tendency is to avoid it. Just say that out loud. In a meeting. More than once. It is critical that leaders model appropriate conflict behavior. By avoiding all conflict – even that which is necessary and productive — we add to the resulting dysfunction, which is unhealthy for everyone.
  • Consider having someone on your board or committee assume the role of “miner of conflict” — someone whose role it is to uncover buried disagreements and call attention to sensitive issues which the team must work through. The “miner” needs to remain objective and the group should commit to staying with the conflict until it is resolved. This responsibility could shift depending upon the issue being discussed.
  • Coach each other through the conflict. A simple behavioral covenant serves as a reminder for how to engage one another. Or perhaps group members agree to remind each other not to retreat from healthy debate. Once the discussion is over, participants can revisit the idea that conflict is good for the group and not something to be avoided. This creates a culture where healthy conflict is encouraged and valued.
  • Take advantage of resources that enable group members to learn about their own conflict styles, behavioral preferences, and personality styles. Knowing more about our own styles can prove useful in managing organizational conflict. There are dozens of assessments out there that can provide helpful insight. The Board of Cooperative Ministries provides several different workshops around healthy conflict and other issues of relevance to congregations. We’d love to come out to your church and help you use these tools to encourage productive conflict and healthy community.

People can learn healthy confrontation skills and when they do, churches benefit.

Future posts will explore specific skills that we can use before, during, and after a conflict. Why wouldn’t we work to make sure we never have fewer brothers and sisters than God has sons and daughters?


References

Lencioni, Patrick. The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2002.

Patterson, Kerry, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005.


rcb at fourRuth Cole Burcaw is Executive Director of the Board of Cooperative Ministries. She and her family are members of Unity Moravian Church in Lewisville, NC. Here she is when her daddy was the preacher at Grace Moravian Church in Mount Airy, NC.