Clearly there are times when it is neither healthy nor sane to remain in a relationship. When a relationship becomes so hurtful and dysfunctional that there can no longer be any hope of other than more pain, it is time to leave.

But, if I have not reached the point in a relationship when the only way forward that I can imagine is to travel separately, how do I move back towards you in such a way that we can carry on moving together after trust has been broken?

It is important to consider what is meant by the expression, “Trust has been broken.” What am I really saying when I say that “Trust has been broken”?

I am saying, “You have hurt me. I feel let down by you. I am no longer sure I can carry on in relationship with you because I need to protect myself from you.”

The problem with this formulation is that it tends to present a picture of relationship in which you are the perpetrator and I am the victim. You are portrayed as the one with all the power who has abused your power causing me harm. This “good guy/bad guy” vision is seldom an adequate description of reality.

Human relationships, and certainly organizational structures, are always more complex than this good/bad dualism. Relationship will only be restored when I acknowledge that, except in rare and extreme cases of abuse, I share some part in creating the dysfunction of our relationship. As I take responsibility for my part in the break down of our relationship, the burden of responsibility shifts towards you to take a similar ownership for your behaviour that has contributed to the distrust that has grown between us.

In the case of the break down of relationship between a diocese and a parish, this transaction is complicated because, in reality, a diocese does not exist apart from the parishes by which it is constituted. There can be no such thing as a break down in relationship between a parish and a diocese because there is no diocese without parishes.

What we are probably saying when we speak of a break down of trust “between diocese and parishes” is that some people in some parishes are feeling disconnected from the Synod Office that has the responsibility to coordinate our common life as a diocese. To reestablish this sense of connection requires equal commitment and effort on the part of both Synod Office staff and parish leaders.

Parish leaders may need to ask:

How open and honest have we been in communicating to Synod Office staff our needs, wishes, desires, and observations?

How hard have we worked at nurturing a sense of connection with those who have primary responsibility for creating a sense of  community among the parishes in this geographical area we share?

How much responsibility are we willing to take for the healthy working of our relationship with our neighbouring parishes and with the Synod Office staff?

Have we been open and honest with the Synod Office staff?

Synod Office staff may need to ask:

Have we genuinely sought to serve and support the well-being and prospering of all parishes as our first priority?

How have we supported each parish in exploring their particular calling as a unique body of ministry within our diocesan family of parishes?

Have we genuinely sought to hear and honour the insights, contributions, and challenges every parish has to offer?

Have we sought as much as possible to be transparent in our dealings with all parishes?

For a diocese (ie. Synod staff and parish leadership) to answer these questions honestly and authentically has the potential to shift the conversation away from the “you need to re-establish trust with me” paradigm to a place where all voices in the conversation take responsibility for being present at the table and we each take ownership for our roles in our community.