Facilitators excited about Circle Process' potential
March 24, 2016
“We get into the circle, we do the holy work, and let Christ shine through.” – Rev. Althea Jackson, facilitator, talking about Circle Process.
The team preparing for the Circle Process that will take place at the 2016 Annual Conference has been recruiting volunteers to be trained as facilitators for the discussion. Between 80 and 90 facilitators (including some backups) will be needed for the Circle Process on Thursday, June 16.
The Rev. Tom Bentum, who serves in the Connecticut/Western Mass. District, will be one of the facilitators and is helping to coordinate the volunteers.
“The facilitator's job is to help make sure everybody’s heard,” he said. “It’s not a competition of who’s the loudest or the most articulate; everybody gets a chance to speak. Even if they pass, at least they've had opportunity.”
Here’s how Circle Process works: Annual Conference members will be assigned to tables at random, and each table will have one of the trained facilitators. Each person at the table will be given the opportunity to speak to a particular question or topic, in turn. ?A “talking piece” – at Annual Conference it will be a small wooden cross – is passed around the circle. Only the person with the cross is allowed to speak, and others are not allowed to interrupt or respond until the talking piece comes to them. The facilitator is there to keep the process moving and ensure the boundaries are respected.
“The main purpose of facilitator is simply to help conversation go,” Rev. Bentum said. “The facilitator also gets an opportunity to summarize the thoughts at the end, so the facilitator needs to be a good listener to help process what's being said.”
The facilitators will be clergy and laity; some are members of Annual Conference, some are not. The only requirement, Rev. Bentum said, is a willingness to be trained. One goal was to try to find facilitators from each district.
Names were lifted up by the district superintendents, and Rev. Bentum followed up with an email request to each. At this writing there were 74 facilitators on the list. Rev. Bentum said he got a positive response from most people he contacted.
“Most people were honored to be asked,” he said. “Many have been in Circle Process themselves – that really encouraged me. Folks saw it as opportunity and a way to maybe bring some healing to our Conference …”
“My sense is there will be really positive energy in the room just from the facilitators really wanting to do this,” Rev. Bentum said. “That will make it really a positive thing.”
Ellen Bridge, a deacon serving in the Northern Maine District, said she’s looking forward to being a facilitator.
Rev. Bridge said she first saw Circle Process about 10 years ago with a group of youth who were coping with the death of a peer; a teen killed in a domestic violence incident.
“I was just awestruck to be on the sidelines and watch that event play out with those kids – kids that we hadn't even heard communicate much or only knew how to communicate in anger,” she said. “To see the results of that – that they felt heard, they felt listened to; and teenagers don't always feel listened to. No one argued and no one contradicted anyone else. There were a lot of tears, I'm going to be honest about that. When they got up, they were hugging each other. Wow; that spoke volumes to me.”
Rev. Bridge said Circle Process allows for listening. “I think listening is often missed in good communication and in relationship building and team building,” she said.
“I think people will come away feeling that new relationships have been built, that commonalities in vision will emerge, and that a lot of healing – for many reasons – will take place,” Rev. Bridge said. “And hopefully people will sense and feel God's grace and God's presence in all of it.”
The Rev. Althea Jackson, who serves in the Rhode Island/Southeastern Mass. District, will be a facilitator for the first time, but has participated in Circle
Process. She said the divisive tenor of public discourse helped motivate her to become a facilitator.
“I'm hoping when we do the circle conversations we remember we’re not the culture, we’re Christians, and we treat each other accordingly,” Rev. Jackson said. “Anything I can do to get us to that goal of treating each other like Christians, I am willing to do. I would like to see us treat each other like we know we’re children of God. And for me, that means coming out of a quiet place and standing up. If I can do this and it helps, then well and good.”
Rev. Jackson said her church used the process to discuss how some endowment funds would be used. A key to making it work, she said, is understanding the circle is a covenant.
“If you keep in mind that this is a sacred moment under a solemn covenant that you make with each other, then it's a little bit more difficult to mistreat or silence another voice,” she said.
“My belief is once you come into a covenant, even if it's for 2 minutes, there's still a lingering connection,” Rev. Jackson said. “And I am hoping a connection is made throughout the conference so that we can do work of holy conferencing and do it in a way that lets Christ shine through … so, bless our hearts, when we get to the floor we remember ‘hey, I had a covenant with this person; I remember that this person is a child of God just like me and their opinions matter.”
Rev. Bentum said the Circle Process team hopes participants will bring this experience back to their churches.
“Part of what we're trying to do is teach a method of communication to our churches,” he said. “It's not just a conversation, but also a way to teach them a tool.”
Rev. Bridge agrees, saying that she used it when she first came to her current church eight years ago after the pastor had been removed.
“I went in not knowing what issues were. Within one meeting, I knew there had been a tremendous hurt,” she said. “I didn't know what to do. I literally had no other tool in my toolbox except the Circle Process. So that's exactly what I did. I think first question I asked was not: ‘How have you been hurt?’ but ‘Where do you feel the presence of the Holy Spirit?’”
The process made a difference, Rev. Bridge said.
“Over the years, it's amazing how many people who were part of that circle in first week have brought it up and mentioned they walked away from that with a great sense of peace and a sense of healing,” she said.
Vision for Circle Process
Rev. Bentum, who serves on the Board of Ordained Ministry, was approached to be part of the Circle Process team by BOM Co-Chair Yoo-Yun Cho-Chang. He said Rev. Cho-Chang’s vision for the process is inspiring and will, he thinks, make it a successful experience.
“This whole idea did not come out of the Sessions Committee, not out of any leadership except for Yoo-Yun, who had this dream to do this and assembled a group,” Rev. Bentum said. “This is a lateral move – not a top-down or bottom-up move, but leadership taking responsibility and moving us ahead.
“I think that makes the experience more powerful – when you know this is someone’s vision. We’re not desperate to find something to do; we’re not required to this – it's somebody’s vision and we’re living it out. To me, that says a lot.”