Vital Conversations: Race - the next step

July 03, 2017

The Circle Process conversations about race at the 2017 Annual Conference session are over, but the work begun there is just starting.

Annual Conference members were given copies of the General Commission on Religion and Race’s (GCORR) videos and study guides used during the June 15 table conversations so that these “Vital Conversations” – and the work of dismantling racism – can continue.

The Rev. Barbara Lemmel is a member of the Circle Process Team. Now, she said, it’s time to start using Circle Process to have these discussions in local churches.

“Ideally, if the clergy and lay person from each church both attended Annual Conference, the next step would be to get together and talk about ‘How do we bring this to our location?’”

And the ‘how’ will be unique to each setting, Rev. Lemmel said.
Find out more about Circle Process
See the Vital Conversations resources
Rev. Barbara Lemmel at or (802) 881-3267
Rev. Lemmel said that she is happy to be a resource to help congregations and pastors “problem solve through what they want to do in their church” and act as a sounding board for ideas.

In some communities, this might be an ecumenical or inter-faith effort, Rev. Lemmel said.

The Rev. Yoo-Yun Cho-Chang, pastor of Woburn UMC in Massachusetts, is also a member of the Circle Process team. Rev. Cho-Chang has used Circle Process to talk about race in her community.

Rev. Cho-Chang said the church hosted a forum series on race relations beginning in October 2016. The series opened with a panel discussion with the mayor, police chief, school superintendent, a high school student, and Rev. Cho-Chang.

“In order to facilitate ongoing conversation about the matter, I suggested that we use Circle Process,” Rev. Cho-Chang said.

She pointed those on the forum team to information about Circle Process on the Conference website to get them familiar with the process.

Facilitators were recruited from the community and included some pastors, the YMCA director, staff from the public library, and others. Rev. Cho-Chang trained the facilitators for about an hour before the second forum in February 2017.

“It didn't take much time and effort,” Rev. Cho-Chang said of the training process, and the second forum was a success.

“It was a great turn out,” she said. “Many people appreciated the conversation and expressed desire for [another] forum.”

The third forum was held in April 2017 at Woburn High School. The questions for the third forum were formed around creating an action plan; the questions during the first Circle Process focused on opening up and sharing experiences, Rev. Cho-Chang said.

The GCORR resources are a good place to start, Rev. Lemmel said, but people should expect to take some time with these materials, even those who used them at Annual Conference.

“This is not light material,” Rev. Lemmel said. “People should feel free to watch [the videos] more than once. Specifically, the one on white privilege; it packed a whole lot into 17 minutes.”

She added that the study guide includes a variety of questions to get started.

“Circle Process,” Rev. Lemmel said, “gives folks an idea of how to lead a group of people in answering the questions that are in the study guide.”

The team has emphasized that Circle Process at Annual Conference lasted just a couple of hours, and was intended to be only the beginning, not an end in itself.

In talking with facilitators, Rev. Lemmel said she was pleased to learn that folks in many cases had meaningful conversations despite the time constraints.

“Everyone said they were surprised at how deep folks were willing to go,” she said.

Rev. Lemmel also said, “There were a number of people of color who came up to me afterward and said ‘thank you for this; it was a really good experience.’ That meant a lot to me.”
Wall of Hope

One part of the Annual Conference Circle Process was the “Wall of Hope.”

After watching the video “A Simple Trip to the Grocery Store …” produced by World Trust Educational Services that talked about what people can do every day to combat racism, participants were asked to write down what they could do and add it to the wall.

Rev. Lemmel said by rough count there were 400 notes.
“There were a lot about praying, and praying for the courage to speak up even when it’s difficult,” she said, “and for the willingness to engage when it would be easier to walk way.”

“People were challenged to really live what they believe,” Rev. Lemmel said.