Divorce Season

Mediation with families has its own season. Since few families want to move in the dead of winter, most parents put up with conflict until the weather gets nicer. Then they move out and file for divorce. Summer, then, is a time when families try to figure out schedules for school age children and continues busy for mediators with August and the first few weeks of September at a feverish pace working with procrastinators. Thanksgiving and Christmas are usually calm as couples and families try to tough it through family gatherings and then it’s back to too cold to move.

There are exceptions to this pattern, of course. But by and large most families roughly follow the seasons of the year in this fashion, at least in Minnesota where I practice.




Holy Week, Easter and church fights

Strangely enough, Holy Week is not a week for church fights in most places. Simply put, the people in church who love being traditional are too busy preparing and helping with Easter breakfasts, commuinion, music, footwashing etc.. Working together to  make sure the traditions get done well (in the traditional style) generally takes precedence over any conflict. Sometimes after Easter, sadly,  the conflicts come back as if the togetherness of Holy Week had never existed. Miost times, though, church conflict will fade away as winter fades. By summer very little activity, including conflict, occurs in most churches. Summer is a season for working in the garden, going to the lake etc. and any conflict then is most often handled quickly and easily or the damage has already been done and pastor or others are on their way out. In rare cases the conflict reemerges in fall when people return to church after “Rally” Sunday or the first Sunday School day in the fall.

These patterns are especially pronounced in small rural congregations where summer is a time of feverish activity outside church.



The Value of the “Pause”

In most US denominations, there is a problem dealing with the issue of homosexuality especially with respect to marriage and ordination. It is commonly thought that if the national denomination reaches a conclusion that problems are over. Far from it. In the UCC, for example, they have been ordaining openly practicing homosexuals for many years. In the UCC It’s not “legal” to question the national policy any more but even today those in opposition to national policy, especially in rural areas, is greater than the national leadership will easily admit.

This has meant opposition has gone underground. If openly gay pastoral candidates apply, church call committees simply find another reason to reject the application profile. In some cases the committees are open in their opposition to gay and lesbian pastors with each other while in others individuals aren’t even aware of why they reject a candidate. Denominations that choose to toe the traditional line (as Scripture has been interpreted for  centuries) are losing their appeal to younger and/or more liberal parishioners and declining dramatically in numbers for this and many other reasons.

What is a church to do? Values in this debate are held close to the heart and often from an unknown source. If challenged, it is easy to get into the “fight or flight” mode. Few pastors have handled this issue with aplomb.

The best approach is to call a “pause.” If a church decides to take a step back from the fight and think about the issue for a year or even two, people will calm down and clearer heads will prevail. A pause if usually only effective if a pastor or key lay leader can suggest it and she or he has a great ability to lead. A pause can prevent “knee jerk” reactions and can enable a church to see how the new policy  (or a continuation of the old one) is affecting the local and national church.

Nothing can stop the polarization of our denomination internally and with one another unless people choose to grow up, understand that people of faith can be on both sides of the issue, and believe that community in spite of differences is a higher held value than a theology that draws a sharp line between firmly held beliefs characterized by both sides as the choice between good and evil. Even if the “pause” is done perfectly there will be significant loss of members from the church but because of the nature of this issue, that is true regardless of what church leaders do or fail to do. But with a “pause” a church stands the best chance of surviving this debate essentially intact. GB




The Psychology of Divorce

Most people getting divorced are pretty stressed out. Usually one person wants a divorce before the other. It is generally better for the person who decides to end the marriage because they have been likely thinking about it for months and have come to a point of decision and may even be past the point of pain. For the one” left behind” it is much harder as they may not even be aware of the marital problems, let alone the need for and acceptance of the divorce. Grief is huge for either party.

What this means for mediation is that the two people are in very different places emotionally and even in the same room a mediator may have to switch approaches. Even if they appear to be in roughly the same place, I like to think of divorce as a stressor so great that neither person is acting quite normally. Add factors like substance abuse, underlying mental illness and guilt from affairs and it’s clear that usually , in denial of not, neither party is thinking quite clearly.

That’s why caucus (2 room mediation) can be so effective. Radically different approaches can be utilized by the mediator without seeming disingenuous. Imagine how silly it might seem to BOTH parties if in the same room the mediator is matter of fact and forward looking while talking to one and sympathetic and backward oriented (in an attempt to move a party forward) with the other. But with two rooms it is possible. In addition, the higher the stress of the parties the more helpful it is to have another mediator or slow the process down. people who may behave badly with one professional present may not do so with two or three professionals in the room.