The Difference Course

At a time when important, but often difficult, conversations are being held within the Church of England, Christians across 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.

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.

Mirjam Ngoy-Verhage, Discpleship Officer for Leicester Cathedral, led Difference online in the diocese last year in partnership with the Community of the Tree of Life. She says: “The course is a chance to discover, explore and experiment with habits of reconciliation with other people. 

“When we started the course some people struggled a bit with the fact that we weren’t just going to go straight into the contentious issues. Instead, we took a step back and focused on the three habits that we can all learn and grow into and will then hopefully change the way we enter into difficult conversations or disagreements we face.”

The three habits and how Mirjam approached them with her group:

Be Curious. How do we listen to others’ stories and see the world through their eyes? How do we understand and value the other and also can we explore the limits of our own stories?

One of the things we encouraged people to do is to go to places outside their comfort zone, like a café in a different part of town or follow people on social media with different views than their own.

Be Present. This means having the courage to bring our whole, unique selves to our encounters – both our vulnerabilities and insecurities as well as our convictions and strengths. From these foundations of trust we can then find unexpected points of connection. A question we wrestled with was what groups of people we might avoid in our lives and why?

Reimagine. That’s where we let God take over. To stretch our understanding of what is possible and finding hope and opportunities in the places where we long to see change. It involves offering everything back to God and allowing Him to lead us into forgiveness, courage and creativity. Ultimately, it is God who brings down the walls of division and changes us from the inside out.

“By discovering the divine in others, it enlarges our own image of God,” says Mirjam. “The course encourages us to take a step back before going into difficult conversations around difference and reflect on the habits we can take on for these conversations to be fruitful.”

From a leader’s perspective, Mirjam says the course is really accessible. “It is super easy to engage with and deliver, but is also full of depth,” she explains. “The course also has both online and offline options.” 

Mirjam believes in the need to be leading this course right now, “because of the specifics of our cultural moment and big questions people are asking related to the Global Pandemic, Climate Crisis and Black Lives Matters and in the church context Living in Love and Faith,” she says.

The feedback from those who took part in the Diocese of Leicester has been wholly positive. People have faced areas of difference and division in their lives that they have avoided or ignored, and gained the tools to be bold in taking steps to cross those divides.

Though there was an element of discomfort during these sessions, these was also an overriding view that this is just the beginning, with deeper digging, and further reflection required going forward.

“The questions that came up weren’t always easy and required honesty and vulnerability, but people got lots out of it,” says Mirjam. “The language of habits is useful, because engaging with difference is something that takes practice, commitment and a level of humility and courage.”

Matt Long, Novice Guardian for The Community of the Tree of Life, who led the course with Mirjam, says: “I have learnt the power of listening, the importance of asking the right questions, and learning to dance in the tension.” 

Beth, who also attended the course online, says: “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.”

Srini joined the Difference course to learn how our faith can help in a conflicted world. He says: “One of the best bits I learnt are the three habits: be curious, be present, reimagine. These habits help me to be more conscious in a situation of conflict.”

Leicester Cathedral and The Community of the Tree of Life are running Difference again this September.

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 Course website.

First published on: 26th April 2021

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