Mediators are peacemakers. We are trained to provide an organized, safe place for couples to address their conflicts. In that safe container, we guide fruitful discussion. The result is that a couple can come to an agreement with terms that potentially satisfies both parties.
Looking at the etymology of the word “mediate” helps us understand our role, and what we really do.
Mediate comes from the Latin mediatus, which means “placed in the middle.” (This is from my Google search, not my one day of high school Latin. That’s another story.) In Medieval Latin (another course I did not take, this time in college), it came to mean “a division in the middle” or “to divide in the middle.”
All good mediators are trained to understand that the best mediation does not result in cutting the baby in half (credits to King Solomon and the Bible), but enlarges the pie of possible results. In mediation (sometimes), each party can get more than half. That’s because sometimes their aims (interests in mediation-speak) are different. The result is that often the interests of one party can be satisfied without impeding the interests of the other participant.
Within the church or synagogue setting, mediation can be very useful if individuals or groups are having disputes or differences of opinion. These can get pretty “hot.”
Facilitation is a close cousin to mediation. That’s where a trained, impartial person works with a group (such as a church or synagogue, its board, or groups of its members) to accomplish their goals. Most facilitators are trained mediators
Going to the etymology of the word facilitate (again to Google, rather than my one day of high school Latin), we see that it comes from the Latin facilis, which means “easy to do.” That word became “facile” in English in the early 17th century. It’s come to mean to make an action or process easy, or less difficult. That fits. That’s what facilitators do. We make the process easy and less difficult. In fact, at times, we make the process possible, in the sense that it can lead to a result.
Whether you serve as a mediator or a facilitator, working within the church or synagogue setting (or with some other religious group), your conflict resolution skills are greatly needed and can be utilized.
As a facilitator, you can help a group achieve its purposes by guiding discussion at group meetings. Your training and experience will help you identify problems, find resolutions, and help the group come to decisions and clarity.
As a mediator, the aim is generally to be there to resolve a specific, identifiable dispute. There are many types of disputes that arise in churches, synagogues, and other religious organizations.
Here are some of the ways mediators and facilitators can help:
· Parishioners or congregants upset with the approach or work of a minister or rabbi.
· Church or temple employees with disputes about employment issues.
· Organizational boards that need to supervise (or even terminate) employees or religious leaders.
· Conflict between or among staff.
· Conflict between or among board members.
· Mediate member concerns with liturgy, religious philosophy, content of sermons and services.
· Facilitation of group efforts and cooperation between churches/synagogues, or among groups of them.
· Address problems with finances within the organization.
· Address shrinking membership.
· Address problems in attracting younger members.
· How to address the problems of elderly members.
· Neighborhood disputes involving the church or synagogue.
· Religious school issues.
· Deaccessioning church/synagogue property, such as valuable historical property (e.g., paintings, books, artifacts, bells, land and buildings).
Some religious groups take the approach that they are, in essence, families, related by belief and/or community. Looking at these groups as families, mediation of disputes is very much like conducting family mediation, a specialty with which many mediators have experience.
Many Christian and Jewish denominations have intentionally embraced mediation as their chosen method of dispute resolution. They see it as an approach more consistent with their teachings and understanding of their faith than court-based litigation. However, many of these conflicts do end up in court, or start with a legal-based process. An example might be provable sexual abuse or harassment.
Virtually everyone who is involved in formal religion has experienced factions within the church or synagogue. It’s important to have a neutral outsider serve as mediator or facilitator. This is much more effective than having the group process (or mediation) led by a member, employee, religious leader, or board member of the religious organization. It’s similar to finding a therapist – you would not go to a therapist who is a friend or a relative. You would want to find a recommended third-party therapist, with no personal connection to yourself.
Churches and synagogues can also decide to offer one-to-one mediation. This service can be used in the following settings:
· Conducting mediation between members who are having a business dispute.
· Conducting marital mediation between members whose marriage is having difficulties.
· Mediating family disputes.
· Mediation to address personal problems/dislikes among, between its members.
Whatever the issue is – worship, staff or member conflict, or to clarify direction – there is a place for mediators (and facilitators) to provide value and reduce suffering. At its basis, isn’t that what mediation is for?