Creating a safe space to work through conflict together
21 August 2020
The Ven Karen Hutchinson, Archdeacon of Norwich, interviews Milee Brambleby of Commonsense Services Ltd about the new mediation service being developed in partnership with the Diocese of Norwich.
Below is a transcript of the interview.
KAREN: It’s lovely to welcome you from Commonsense Services Ltd. as we look forward to beginning this new partnership with you and the Diocese of Norwich on mediation within the diocese. So perhaps you can start by just telling us a little bit about your experience and what you’re bringing to this.
MILEE: So, I’ve been practising as a professional mediator now for about six years. And a lot of the work that I’ve done has been in the workplace where relationships have broken down. I’ve also done quite a lot of community mediation and that’s normally where neighbours have got into difficulties over noisy dogs and cats, or fences, parking; that kind of thing.
But in my church life, I’ve also I’ve had the opportunity to serve as the Churchwarden. And I worked with a PCC during the interregnum, and I’ve served on PCC, so I think I’m on my third or fourth tour of service as a PCC member now, so I’ve got some idea of some of the issues that can arise quite naturally and normally in parish life.
KAREN: Thank you. Well, a huge amount of experience there Milee, and I’m really glad that you were able to bring that to bear on this particular project. Some people might ask: “Why do we need mediators in churches because Christians are supposed to love each other, aren’t they?”
MILEE: Well, Christians are supposed to love each other and do indeed love each other but churches are full of human beings, and for human beings, conflict is as natural as breathing! It isn’t always big, shouty conflict; it’s tiny individual conflicts where my needs and your needs don’t fully align. And most of those we just breeze through and we scarcely even notice them, but sometimes those conflicts, if they’re not addressed, really quickly can grow and grow and impact on individuals’ relationships and wider relationships within a worshipping community.
KAREN: So what can a mediator bring to that?
MILEE: Well, what mediator conflict specialists can bring is, first of all, someone with no skin in the game because once we’re involved in a conflict, all kinds of things happen to us, psychologically and physiologically that make it hard to get out. But a mediator can create a safe space for people to come together and work through what it is that lies between them. Mediators don’t resolve conflict, individuals choose to resolve conflicts, but a mediator can support and help them with that.
KAREN: That sounds really helpful and hopeful, particularly for those who feel they might have got stuck in a particular place.
MILEE: Yes. I mean, I’ve worked with people who’ve been stuck in conflicts – my record is 16 years! And those two individuals did not believe it was possible for anything to change, it had been going on for them for so long. But actually, what mediation can allow us to do is to look at what’s gone before. Acknowledge any hurt that’s happened and then draw a line. We can’t change anything that’s happened before, but we can choose how our relationships are going to be in the future. And so, we can change the future; it isn’t fixed. And I feel that’s something that, as Christians, we must be called to do, surely?
KAREN: Absolutely! Well, we’re really looking forward to working with you. What is it that excites you about working with the diocese?
MILEE: I love the idea of working on something new. So exploring with the diocese and all the parishes, and how to handle conflict in a different way, how to create something that is a supportive service for the diocese going forward: that’s really, really exciting because it’s all new and shiny!
KAREN: Fantastic! Well, we are very much looking forward to starting that later in the autumn. And we look forward to working with you on that.
MILEE: Likewise; I can’t wait to get started!
Potential volunteer mediators have already been identified and a recruitment and training process will take place over the coming months, hoping to launch the scheme early in 2021. Milee will begin work with the Diocese from November and hopes to meet people and churches next year as she offers training opportunities.