Reconciling Relationships Seminar Report

Ruth Harvey   03 Nov 2017


On Tuesday 3rd October 2017 forty-seven delegates met in the airy space of the Mews in central Edinburgh to share reflections, visions and hopes for ‘Reconciling Relationships’. Place for Hope reaches its tenth anniversary in 2019, and talk, initially, of a 2019 conference to mirror the founding conference of Place for Hope at Aviemore in 2009, built the foundation for this seminar.

We were delighted with the interest in our event from the core constituency of Place for Hope, namely faith-based organisations seeking support in the art of conflict transformation, along with support from partners in interfaith, civic and secular agencies.  

From the beginning of our planning process we recognised the synergy in such a seminar at a time when there is so much concern about the fragmentation of church and society. In addition, we were keen to celebrate the core value of partnership working which Place for Hope engenders, and were delighted to see so many of our partner agencies around the tables at the Mews.

Reconciling Relationships: a Place for Hope Seminar

The Purpose of our Seminar was agreed as:

  • networking between mediation, peace-building and faith-based conflict transformation groups
  • deepening our understanding of reconciliation
  • drawing together wisdom for programme towards a peace-building conference in 2019

Our day began with coffee, tea and an opportunity to meet well known friends, and introduce ourselves to new faces. Resources from Place for Hope were on hand, and staff welcomed all with refreshments. James Aitken, Vice-Chair of the Board of Trustees of Place for Hope offered us words of welcome and placed our day in the context of recent bombings and situations of violence and conflict in our world: ours is an opportunity to share an approach to relationships based on transformation and reconciliation, rather than violence bred from fear.

In introduction, we spent some time meeting with one another sharing responses to the prompts: “share a hope that you have for the day”; and “share one thing about which you are passionate.”

We were delighted then to welcome David Brubaker joining us via video conferencing from his office at the Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. David directs the MBA Program there and serves as Associate Professor of Organizational Studies in the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. Author of “Promise and Peril: Understanding and Managing Change and Conflict in Congregations” (published by The Alban Institute), David has been a good friend of Place for Hope since attending the Aviemore Conference as a speaker and workshop leader. Since then, David has become one of the Place for Hope Patrons, and led a week-long seminar for Place for Hope with the Iona Community on Iona in 2014: “Peace in our Churches; Hope in our Communities.”

David led us through some powerful reflections on ‘Reconciling Relationships: Perspectives on Change and Conflict in our Congregations and our Societies.’ Exploring the notion of congregations as ‘systems’, we looked at the nature of a healthy system, and in particular focused on healthy leadership. The societal forces which impact on the life of congregations particularly in the US include:

  • Decline of Christendom and “rise of the nones”
  • Loss of trust in institutions
  • Growing cultural and religious diversity (and rise of Trump)
  • Increase in polarization
  • Changing family structure
  • Cellphone (mobile) saturation
  • Accelerating individualism

We took time around our tables to share responses to the following questions:

  • What two or three changes in your congregation’s or community’s multiple environments (social, political, economic, technological) have had the greatest effect on your congregation or community in the last five to 10 years?
  • What specific changes were introduced to your congregation or community as it adapted to these changes in its environment?
  • Did conflict occur within the congregation or community due to these changes? If so, how did the conflict(s) impact your congregation or community?

Responses, along with David’s further reflections are captured in the video conferencing recording.

Over lunch, participants took the opportunity to continue conversations begun earlier in the day. We then moved in to a time of conversation with four panel members, from left, in photo, Ruth Harvey (Director of Place for Hope), Graham Boyack (Director of Scottish Mediation Network), Maureen Sier (Director of Interfaith Scotland) Stewart Weaver (Church of Scotland Minister and Place for Hope Trustee).

Themes that emerged during this panel conversation included:

  • conflict transformation in interfaith and international contexts
  • ensuring that ‘the voice’ in the room is the voice of authentic experience
  • the art of ‘slow conversation’
  • the power of listening, and the need to take necessary time for change and transition
  • following the Easter story as a guide for the transformation of conflict

Time was then taken to reflect on the core purpose and audience/participant list for a 2019 conference, themes for keynote and workshop input, the place of worship/reflection, and possible venues and funding streams.

Our hope is that, through this seminar, energy and vision can be galvanised across the churches, the faith networks, secular and civic mediation partners and others, to ensure that reconciliation and the transformation of conflict become a way of life, and change our culture for the better.

Please download the full Reconciling Relationships Seminar Report

“Our hope is that, through this seminar, energy and vision can be galvanised across the churches, the faith networks, secular and civic mediation partners and others, to ensure that reconciliation and the transformation of conflict become a way of life, and change our culture for the better.” — Ruth Harvey

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