Bishop's Letter: Church and conflict

Back in 1994, before I attended seminary, I was working at a church in the Midwest as the parish life coordinator. In many ways, it was a dream job. I felt called to do this work.

Toward the end of my first year in the position, conflict began to brew. Some church leaders did not agree with how the pastor and staff (of which I was a part) were going about the work of the church and outreach efforts. There were private meetings about how to get the pastors to leave, face to face interactions that were just mean-spirited with name calling and accusations. Some individuals said they would withhold their giving unless changes were made. It was ugly. It felt personal.

I thought “if this is what church is about, I don’t want to be a part of it.” (Little did I know where I’d be writing this story from today.)

Unfortunately, far too many of us can relate to feeling unwelcome or outside of a church community. Or we can recall a time when we have excluded others.

The church is made of people, and having an attitude of “all are welcome” is going to be messy. How do we find ways to hold disparate voices and have disagreement while maintaining God’s love for another?

As much as I wish I had it all figured out, I believe that each of us holds parts of the truth, but not the entire truth. We are not whole without one another. Jesus’ prayer from John 17 has new meaning for me, “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one.”

In this season of annual meetings, how are you finding ways to include each other? Are there practices that have worked well for you?  

Thank you for being in this work together. 


The Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer
Grand Canyon Synod of the ELCA