Where there has been a conflict, we most likely find the truth stretched, lies told, betrayals, and damaged relationships. What is left is the stink of resentment. Conflict equals pain and its bitter smell lingers. If reconciliation is to take place, it comes after we deal with this leftover pain. Healing happens as people express and let go of their negative feelings. When expression is frustrated, denied or blocked, forward movement and healing are frustrated, denied and blocked. If this happens in a church, people stay away and ministry suffers. An intervention is needed to address the past and to discharge negativity. This blog post outlines such an intervention. It is called Neutralizing History.
A word of caution - without planning, it won't work to put this kind of event on the calendar and expect it to be helpful. A careful assessment and communication is required prior to a Neutralizing History event . Leadership and community members need to understand and be guided prior to the event. Also, there needs to be a high level of trust of the facilitator. As difficult as this event can be for a church, it promotes healing, the restoration of relationships, and opens the door to the future.
The event's structure is based on a version the small group process called the "Samoan Circle." During the event participants are invited and encouraged to speak their minds and hearts. They are listened to, understood and affirmed. Participants are invited to let go the negativity of the past. For this to happen a safe place is created. This is a place where people can speak the truth without the fear of embarrassment or reprisal. Understandable rules, simple ritual, and a trained facilitator combine to create and insure this safety.
At the beginning of the event, note cards are distributed to participants. The facilitator asks each person to write on the cards the negative events or relationships which still trouble them (one per card). These might include something someone said or an action which was offensive or off-putting. It could also be something that did not happen that the person felt should have happened. The cards are a collection of unresolved grievances and cause for resentment.
The room is set up with a circle of chairs. In the middle of the circle are two additional chairs. The is also be an open Bible, candle, and cross in middle. At the start, the group sits in the circle and he facilitator says:
"We gather to talk about some difficult times from our history. I have asked each of you to use index cards to write down a particular memory, incident, or time which has been difficult and remains troublesome. These memories are difficult to bring up. They come with feelings. They are equally difficult to let go. In the same way that cannot unring a bell, we cannot undo what was said or done. We are not here to undo the past rather we are here to heal. We will help each other disarm the past and neutralize the negative energy of these memories. This is done together. As we neutralize our history we restore hope for our future as the body of Christ."
The facilitator continues to explain how each person will be invited to come to the middle to share their cards. A second person (the listener) to sit in the second chair in the middle. This listener only listens and then paraphrases what he or she heard. Ideally, the listener will be a person who is the subject of one or more of the cards.
Each person tells their story and the listener summarizes what is said. When the one speaking is satisfied he or she has been heard, the facilitator asks, "Are you able to let go of what happened?" If they are not ready, the facilitator asks, "What do need in order to be let go of this memory?" This is followed by more conversation. When and if they're ready to let go, their card is place on the open Bible and the two return to the outer circle. The event continues until all everyone has their chance to speak and be heard and the group has worked through their cards.
The facilitator asks for a pledge of confidentiality - that people don't tell others details about what others shared. Participants do not tell other people's stories. Each individual chooses if they want to share what they said and how they were understood.
The Neutralizing History event comes to a close with prayer or the celebration the Lord's Supper. This is a time of fellowship. The event is emotionally draining. It is best allow time for the group to linger and talk with each other.