At a time when important, and often difficult, conversations are being held within the Church of England, Christians around the diocese are being encouraged to engage with the reconciliation ministry course, Difference.
The course explores what it means to follow Jesus in the face of conflict and see transformation through everyday encounters.
In the words of Archbishop Justin Welby: “Reconciliation is not the ending of all difference, but the transformation of how we deal with difference.”
At the centre of Difference are the three habits: Be Curious. Be Present. Reimagine. These teach us to encounter others well, cross divides and see society transformed. They also give a framework for discipleship and spiritual formation, recognising that we need new patterns of speaking, thinking, praying, and acting.
The five-session course looks at how peacebuilding is core to our identity in Christ. As God has reconciled humanity to himself, so are we reconcilers to one another and creation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Each session involves video stories from Christians facing conflict, Bible passages where Jesus deals with difference and division, interactive exercises, discussion, and prayer.
Conflict and relationships can be sensitive topics for many reasons, but the course provides a supportive environment to explore how our faith can make a difference in these areas of our lives. It’s a chance to discover, explore and experiment with habits of reconciliation with other people.
Emma Crick de Boom, who lives and worships in Leicester, is part of Archbishop Justin Welby’s reconciliation ministry team, alongside her role of Reconciliation Enabler in Coventry Diocese and the wider West Midlands. She works closely with the Difference resource.
Emma says: “We know that we don’t need to look for long to see that we live in a complicated and messy world where there is fracture, division, polarisation, and conflict. I can imagine that you’ve had your own experiences and observed some of these fractures in your own environment or have observed them in the news.
“We’ve seen how societal tensions have grown, and structural and systemic divisions become more apparent. Public conversation and digital connection is often marred by hostility and characterised by prejudice and division.
“Navigating this world can be hard. We encounter it in our relationships, in our communities and in our wider systems and structures… as well as in our churches, and our own conflicted selves sometimes. Though many of us long to make a difference, we often don’t know how to respond or where to start.”
Difference is a resource that helps people to find a way of being a reconciling presence, wherever they might be.
Emma says that practicing the three habits - Be Curious. Be Present. Reimagine – raises our awareness of ourselves and the other. It focuses how we hold ourselves and influence the culture in the groups that we belong to. It contributes to a missional imperative, sending the message that the Church is and can be good news - that we are active, engaged and not ignorant. It also shows people on the verges and the outside of our communities that divides can be crossed, to build a place of peace.
She continues: “The key thing is how can we hold ourselves in the space of difference and disagreement, knowing yours or the other’s perspectives may not be changed. How can the space between us be transformed in the light of God’s presence with us?”
Feedback from people in our diocese who have both led and completed the course is positive, with many feeling they gained the tools to be bold in taking steps to cross the divides in their own lives. From a leader’s perspective, the course is accessible, easy to engage with and deliver, and full of depth. One participant said: “I have learnt the power of listening, the importance of asking the right questions, and learning to dance in the tension.” Another said: “It has helped me to feel more confident to face different opinions to my own and not run away from debate and challenge. We can live in a bit of an echo chamber with many of our social media friends and followers sharing similar views to our own – this course encouraged me to seek out other viewpoints and learn from them on topics from faith to politics and more.” And a course leader, added: “The questions that came up weren’t always easy and required honesty and vulnerability, but people got lots out of it. The language of habits is useful, because engaging with difference is something that takes practice, commitment and a level of humility and courage.”
Could you be leading your church or worshipping community through these difficult conversations?
For more information about the course, and to access resources, see the Difference website.