Major conference planned to tackle internal church conflict

By staff writers
October 6, 2012

A national ‘Faith in Conflict’ conference due to be held next year will seek to improve the way churches deal with internal conflict.

Delegates from Christian churches all over England, and beyond, will gather at Coventry Cathedral to explore how conflict is handled, whether it be over national issues or local tensions and power struggles.

The conference ( will be held from 26-28 February 2013 in Coventry Cathedral, itself an iconic symbol of reconciliation and deeply engaged in conflict transformation activities since it was bombed in the Second World War amd rebuilt in its aftermath.

Keynote speakers will be Rev Canon Dr Sam Wells, current incumbent at St Martin-in-the-Fields, whose work often focuses on bringing people together in the context of fear and faith, and the Rev Dr Jo Bailey Wells, who has expertise in working across the divides in churches in America in the wake of the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson.

As a member of the planning group, Alastair McKay, Executive Director of Bridge Builders, commented: “This is a timely moment to consider how the Church handles conflict in its midst, and to re-establish a faithful Christian approach to engaging with the inevitable tensions that we face.”

Conference coordinator David Williams said: “The conference is designed to be highly interactive and to help the church deal with conflict in a better way.”

Senior church leaders from the Anglican, Baptist and Methodist traditions have also got behind the venture.

One of the conference sponsors is the Rt Rev Justin Welby, Anglican Bishop of Durham, who said: “This conference is unique in that it is designed to help the Church take the task of mediation seriously. The difference that can be made in parishes and the wider community by having knowledgeable and trained people on hand is simply staggering. This conference will help senior clergy and others with a responsibility for leading people to get a better working knowledge of some of the tools and techniques available.”

Another sponsor is the Rt Rev Dr Christopher Cocksworth, Bishop of Coventry. He declared: “The Church is not called to avoid conflict but to face it faithfully and to turn it towards God’s purposes of healing and forgiveness. I’m delighted that Faith in Conflict is taking place in Coventry, a city inspired by the Christian vision of resolution of conflict through reconciliation and the refusal to allow destructive forces to have the last word.”

The President Elect of the Baptist Union of Great Britain, the Rev Ernie Whalley, also welcomed the conference. He said: “The human wreckage around us shows us how hard it is to ‘live with difference’ and flourish as communities. Sadly this includes our Christian churches. Leadership in peacemaking is essential. This conference aims to equip leaders at a deeper level to allow the insights of the Gospel to shape our thinking and to signpost our resources.”

The Rev Dr Mark Wakelin, President of the Methodist Conference, added: “Christian communities of people inevitably face conflict. While conflict presents challenges for the Church, it can also become an opportunity for growth and positive change. Such transformation matters and can have lasting benefits to the Church and wider community. I therefore welcome the way that the Faith in Conflict conference will help church leaders to reflect on this.”

The conference has been organised by a group of professionals looking to assist the church. The group includes top commercial and community mediators, and is supported by Bridge Builders, the country’s leading provider of training for church leaders in handling conflict; Peaceworks, the leading mediation, reconciliation and training agency on the South Coast; as well as the Reconciliation Ministry Team at Coventry Cathedral, which has many years’ experience in serving groups working through conflict.

Bridge Builders grew out of the work of the London Mennonite Centre (now Mennonite Centre Trust, based in Birmingham), but has become an autonomous organisation with an Anabaptist inheritance, but strong connections in many other Christian traditions.

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