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Sophie Morse was ordained to address conflicts

As part of a covenant with the Pacific Northwest Conference and the Conference Committee on Ministry, Sophie Morse is offering a series of six 90-minute classes on engaging conflict effectively.

The classes are Thursdays online every two months. The first series began in April, continued in June and continues through January 2024.

Sophie Morse offers keys to resolving conflicts in churches.

The classes are geared to help lay people and clergy gain confidence and competence in a church climate to handle emotionally charged situations and lead effective meetings.

“Our comfort level affects how we handle the heat of conflict,” said Sophie who was ordained to a ministry of conflict resolution in the fall of 2020 as part of the conference commitment to engage around conflict resolution.

The April class, an “Introduction to Conflict and Conflict Resolution” helped people learn how to diagnose a conflict so they could treat it.

“Often conflict brings with it a sense of chaos and helplessness. When we can identify the core elements of any conflict we face, we can not only reclaim our presence, but also know how to treat the conflict,” said Sophie.

“This means being able to make intentional choices about how to de-escalate and constructively move forward in a way that serves all stakeholders,” she explained.

The second class, “De-escalating High Conflict Behavior,” on June 15 emphasized that calm response to a conflict is a vital leadership skill. Participants gained an easy-to-remember tool for responding to high conflict communication, whether in the form of challenging verbal or written “feedback,” meeting hijacking, or hallway ambushes.

Twenty years ago, Sophie moved to the Pacific Northwest from Massachusetts and Rhode Island where she worked professionally in experiential and outdoor education with mariner programs on sailing vessels.

With mariners—experienced sailors—on both sides of her family, Sophie sailed in high school and before her college degrees, and she worked 10 years professionally with boats.

During college, she spent summers sailing on the ocean, complementing her studies at the University of Rhode Island on marine policy. She earned a bachelors in 1993 and masters in 1996 in environmental and natural resource economics.

“I felt called to ministry in the late 1990s but did not follow through. Growing up in the UCC, I thought I would save the world through environmental policies until I realized I liked working with people,” she said.

In 2004, Sophie moved to Poulsbo where she did odd jobs and was done with sailing.

Through the Compassionate Listening Project, Sophie decided to train in conflict resolution. She volunteered with the Dispute Resolution Center (DRS) of Kitsap County until she became a certified mediator in 2009. In 2010, Sophie worked as a paid intern for six months with Keystone UCC in Seattle and began working with the DRC of Kitsap County.

In 2006, she began attending Suquamish Community Congregational UCC and was accepted into the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University to work on a master of divinity degree.

“I realized I wanted to do dispute resolution, not be a church pastor,” she said.

From 2010 to 2018 as a member in discernment, she decided to be ordained when the Committee on Ministry offered guidance.

“I saw how painful it was to be in conflict, especially in a small organization with a passion around a mission of wanting to help,” Sophie said. “I was ordained with a five-way covenant with the PNC, Suquamish UCC, myself, the place I work and an independent oversight board I convened for support and accountability. It includes my pastor, Amari Oden.

“I proposed an introductory session in August 2021 to introduce conflict resolution in work with congregations, funded by congregations,” she said.

Sophie described typical conflicts in churches:

• People in churches hold different political views and levels of comfort on how progressive the church is.

• Conflicts arise in pastoral care and how volunteer lay leaders manage pastoral staff.

• There is anger, anxiety and frustration because the role of the church is changing.

• Conflicts arise over which programs to fund.

• Conflict resolution helps people address anger.

• There is regular organizational conflict with people triangulating and not addressing issues directly.

“If conflict is present in a community, it may distract members from engaging with one another,” Sophie said, “yet engaging with one another around conflict is how we create the kin-dom of God.

“Conflict is not distraction, but what we do to be the church and be more of the church we want to be,” she said.

“While many run away from conflict, I run toward it like a firefighter runs toward a fire,” she said. “I seek to transform the painful experience so the church can be who they want to be with one another and with God. To be caught in conflict is embedded in human experience.

She urges people to communicate through conflict to better understand themselves, their community and their faith.

In addition to the workshop series, Sophie goes to churches and leads workshops tailored to a church or community.

She offers one-on-one conflict coaching and consultation when a church asks for help.

She does coaching with leaders, mediation between two people and multiparty Restorative Mediation.

“I seek to help people reset, refresh and restore a sense of togetherness so they engage with conflict in the moment,” she said.

Sophie weaves in scripture, prayer and theology to help people be aware God is present in conflict.

“I apply an equity lens and incorporate understanding systems of power and individual power and structural imbalances in my work.

Sophie said it is important in resolving conflicts to consider the intersection of a community’s overlapping layers of historical oppression.

 “As both a woman and queer, I experience certain layers of oppression. Race would add more layers,” she said.

Sophie explained how understanding the intersection of different layers of oppression in an individual has impact on how she might coach people in conflict.

Upcoming classes are Aug. 17 on “How to Listen Effectively,” Oct. 19 on “How to Ask for What We Want,” Nov. 16 on “How to Encourage Effective Meetings,” and Jan. 18 on “How to Navigate Conversations on ‘isms.”

For information, call 360-870-8024, email or visit


Pacific Northwest Conference Summer United Church News copyright © June 2023


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