The Rev. Larry Boutelle
Gale Robb, Acting EP
Early Intervention and Mediation Team
Elder O. at Last Presbyterian Church has been the chairperson of the Finance Committee for a year. Every month Elder O. writes a report to be included in the session docket, and every month Pastor L. re-writes his report without consulting him. Elder O. has asked Pastor L. not to rewrite his reports, or at least to consult with him before publishing her version, but her behavior has not changed. Two months ago, as the Personnel Committee was preparing for Pastor L.’s annual review, Elder O. met with them, shared his complaint, and asked that it be addressed in the review. After the review, Elder O. was told simply that they had discussed it with Pastor L. and did not feel it was a big deal. Last month, Pastor L. once again rewrote Elder O.’s report, this time including inaccurate information about the church’s finances. Elder O. is getting calls from congregation members asking about the erroneous information, and he does not know how to respond. He does not want to “throw Pastor L. under the bus,” nor does he want to accept responsibility for an error he didn’t make. Privately, he wonders whether something unethical is happening with Pastor L., and he senses this situation could blow up and cause a lot of conflict in the congregation if it isn’t resolved quietly.
In the PTCA, we strive to be a body of churches and leaders who are united in the common mission of proclaiming Christ, worshipping God, and following the Holy Spirit. We also recognize that within that common mission, discord is inevitable; different ideas, understandings, goals, styles, and values can lead to conflict between individuals and groups. While conflict is a normal part of life, and often leads to helpful growth and change, sometimes it can become hurtful and difficult to manage, and it can obstruct or threaten the well-being of those involved.
With that understanding, the PTCA has formed the Early Intervention and Mediation (EIM) Team to assist individuals and congregations in addressing and resolving conflict. The EIM is comprised of Ruling Elders and Teaching Elders who have training and experience in conflict mediation and who are committed to the health and vitality of churches and their leaders throughout the Presbytery. Safety and confidentiality are the guiding values in the work of the EIM. In addition to safety and confidentiality, the EIM values neutrality, collaboration, and reconciliation. Team members see themselves as facilitators rather than enforcers, and will always strive to achieve resolution at the congregational level.
What is meant by “safety and confidentiality?” Using the example above, safety and confidentiality mean that Elder O. is able to contact the EIM about his concern directly, either via telephone, email, or a link from the Presbytery website, and his concern is discussed by the EIM team members at their next meeting (if any team members are affiliated with Last Church, they recuse themselves from the situation). If the EIM feels that the matter merits further action, they reach out to Pastor L. to inform her that there is a situation of conflict in her congregation and assess her interest in mediation. Elder O.’s identity remains confidential until both parties agree to enter into a mediation process, at which point EIM reports to COM simply that they are working with a conflict between individuals at Last Church. If the situation is successfully mediated and resolved, EIM reports to COM simply that the situation at Last Church has been resolved. If, however, the EIM discovers that there has been some sort of misconduct at Last Church, or if the parties cannot come to a resolution, the EIM refers the matter to the COM for further action, sharing pertinent information at that time.
These values mean that while the EIM functions as a subgroup of the COM, the details of any situations in which they are involved are kept entirely within the team itself and are not subject to review, discussion, or decision by the COM or by the Presbytery. Should resolution not be achieved through the efforts of the EIM and the parties involved, the EIM will step aside and allow the COM and the conflicted parties to determine next steps.
HOW TO REACH THE EIM:
The EIM team is active and available for consultation and encourages those with concerns about conflict to make contact as early as possible. Early intervention is key to successful resolution. Pastors, Clerks of Session, and Session members who have a concern are encouraged to contact the team via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The EIM team will discuss requests for assistance at their next scheduled meeting. More urgent concerns should be directed to either the Acting Executive Presbyter (email@example.com) or the Stated Clerk (firstname.lastname@example.org); these will be addressed at the earliest possible opportunity. A member of the EIM team will respond to each request as quickly as possible.
Pastors, Clerks of Session, and Ruling Elders currently active on session may reach out directly to any member of the EIM. Church members are encouraged first to bring their concerns to their session. If for some reason a person feels that raising a concern with their session is unsafe or unsatisfactory, they may contact the EIM directly. The EIM is available to serve as a resource to sessions who are dealing with conflicts or complaints within their congregation. The EIM may also be called in by COM, the Stated Clerk, or the Executive Presbyter.
EIM Team Members:
Larry Boutelle, TE
Gregg Dana, TE
Casey Wells, TE
Julie Lokken, RE
Gloria Sabin, RE
Becca Fletcher, TE
Larry Farris, TE