About a month ago, a local church approached our team about how they could implement restorative practices in their community. They are a very diverse church with many English language learners who have recently moved to New Zealand from other countries. Especially because of these language and cultural barriers, it can be difficult for all 50+ members of the church to feel connected. Like any community, there is also sometimes conflict, and they were looking for tools to help them work through the issues that occasionally come up.
As a church committed to following the lived example of Jesus, they were also interested in the work of reconciliation and peacemaking, and wanted to be involved in that sacred work within their community.
They decided to do a four-week series on the theme of becoming a restorative church, and I was asked to come on week three to facilitate a circle experience. The idea was that we would give the community an experience of relationship-building circles, to strengthen their connections to each other and each member’s sense of belonging. Then, when issues come up in the future, there would already be familiarity and comfort with the circle process as a structure for holding those more difficult conversations.
I arrived an hour early to sit down with a group of five volunteer facilitators from the community who had been asked to take on the role because they were perceived as good listeners and natural, gentle leaders. I started by facilitating a circle with them, so that they could know what if feels like, and then we debriefed the experience and talked through the essential elements of facilitating and any questions they had. They had all been asked ahead of time to bring treasured objects to use as their talking pieces.
We also had four volunteer translators from the community, who were given the circle questions and an overview of the circle process ahead of time.
After the standard service, I gave a quick introduction to circles and then helped to divide the congregation into five circle groups, with a translator in each group that needed one. The facilitators then led their circles through the three rounds of questions (which you can see in the circle guide below).
I kept an eye on all five circles and then brought everyone back together at the end to talk about the experience. The community shared beautiful reflections about how it felt like a sacred space was created in the circle, like God was truly present. One newer member of the church said this was the first time he had really felt something in his heart since coming. The groups reflected on laughing and crying together and the beauty of being able to hear each other’s languages and connect with each other with the help of the translators.
Taking the time to connect with each other in a meaningful way is so life giving in a community. For me, circles are a place where the divine feels so tangible. If you are part of a spiritual community, offer to facilitate a circle process. You will be amazed by the outcome!
- Purpose of the Connection Circle (to build connection and community, to get to know each other on a deeper level, to practice the circle structure)
- Establish Group Rules
- Please listen and speak with respect
- Respect everyone’s privacy by not sharing what is said in the circle
- Speak only when you have the talking piece and share time fairly
- You may pass and we will come back to you
- Practice patience
- Introduce Talking Piece
- Significance of object used
- How it relates to the question
- Question Round(s) (you may have time for 1, 2, or 3 rounds of questions)
- Round 1: Please share your name and a story connected to your name (this could be what your name means, how your name was chosen, what you think of your name, or any other story related to your name).
- Round 2: What do you feel grateful for this week?
- Round 3: What experience in your life have you learned the most from? What did you learn?
- Close the Circle
- Thank everyone for participating
- Reflection and tie it all together ending