Case Study

From Division to New Vision in an Urban Faith Congregation

Icon: Context

An urban faith congregation was thrown into turmoil when it was revealed that its founder and former leader was responsible for harmful misconduct. Fault lines quickly emerged in the community. For some, the revelations constituted a major crisis of faith. Others remained loyal to their teacher’s legacy despite the reports of harm. And a great many found themselves navigating the complexity of acknowledging the harm, while also wanting to retain a relationship to the teachings which had provided value to their lives. While some congregants left the community, those who remained faced the task of living and working together across wide chasms of identity and ideology, as strong differences in perspective prevailed about how to approach issues related to the leader’s legacy. Among the most immediately pressing of these controversies were what to do about several specific physical and ceremonial representations of the leader within the place of worship.

Just Outcomes was asked to assist the community and its leadership in finding solutions to these issues in ways that could preserve the integrity of the community and serve as an example to other struggling congregations within the same broader faith community.

Icon: Approach

From meeting with the community’s leadership, our team understood that finding solutions to the tangible issues facing the community would be insufficient if it failed to lead toward greater discussion and understanding by members about their underlying values, concerns, interests, and vision for the community. The process therefore required significant engagement with community members, training on collaborative problem-solving, strong facilitation within community deliberations, and clear decision-making processes. An outline of the stages of our process is as follows:

  1. Leadership Team: Just Outcomes held initial meetings with individuals and groups in community leadership roles. The purpose of these meetings was to establish a shared vision for the project and determine roles and responsibilities (including the decision-making authority of a core Leadership Team within the process).
  2. Congregation Engagement Team: Just Outcomes facilitated a process among the Leadership Team to develop an outreach strategy for the formation of a Congregation Engagement Team (CET). Invitations to prospective CET members were determined by the Leadership Team according to criteria including diverse representation of perspectives, lived experiences, age, gender, sexual orientation, and role within the community. Just Outcomes facilitators conducted individual meetings with all prospective members to explain the role and answer questions. The aim of early CET meetings was to inform the CET of consensus decision-making protocols and begin planning for a robust community-wide process to meet the objectives of the project. The group encountered obstacles and setbacks in trust among some members, which the Just Outcomes team actively sought to help resolve.
  3. Town-Hall Meetings: Just Outcomes facilitated two consecutive in-person town hall meetings at the congregation’s place of worship, which included a diverse representation of community members. During the meetings, congregants had the opportunity to share the personal impacts of the revelations of harm, be informed about the engagement process, and assess their own interest in further involvement with the process.
  4. Intensive Dialogue and Training Session: Just Outcomes facilitated a two-day, in person event open to all congregants. The purpose of the event was to:
    1. Introduce participants to communication and dialogue skills, and to enter deep conversations about important issues facing the community.
    2. Elicit creative, interest-based solutions to the issues around representation of the leader in ceremonies and physical spaces.
    3. To invite participants to become a part of a decision-making process on these issues by joining the CET.
  5. Decision-Making Process: Following the dialogue and training event, a subset of participants volunteered to join the existing CET to engage in a decision-making process on the core issues deliberated in the event. These included the presenting issues that had initiated the project, along with a re-examination of leadership and decisions-making structures within the community.
  6. Implementation: After these decisions were reached, the CET convened for additional meetings with the support of an internal facilitation team to discuss the implementation of the decisions, including outreach and engagement with other parties potentially impacted by the decisions.
Icon: Outcomes

Through this process, creative and substantive decisions were reached on controversial issues facing the faith community. Key features of this decision-making process include the following:

  • Leadership became inclusive and collaborative, rather than ‘top down’ or authoritarian. The process was driven by group consensus at all stages.
  • Decisions were the product of interest-based dialogue, rather than positional debate, among impacted parties with differing perspectives and life experiences.
  • The community engagement process led to changes in the status quo in how leadership and administration are conducted within the community. Group agreements and decision-making processes have outlasted the project.
  • Group members learned to look to each other for leadership and expertise, while affirming the role of Just Outcomes as facilitators rather than authorities.
  • Decision-making built, rather than eroded, relationships among those involved.

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