Australian Diocese Uses Circle Processes

“Experiments with Restorative Circles During Pandemic Times”

by Michael Wood

The Anglican Diocese of Perth, Western Australia, has been experimenting in recent years with various forms of restorative circles and conferencing in order to establish, grow, maintain and repair relationships. The most recent example was at the end of 2020. After a year of Covid disruption, most clergy were feeling utterly exhausted. Our Archbishop, Kay Goldsworthy, decided to host an afternoon of Listening Circles for 90 clergy, followed by a Eucharist and socializing.  

To prepare, we carefully selected nine clergy who we believed had a good feel for leading conversations. We then ran an “Introduction to Facilitating a Listening Circle” workshop with them. These nine participants then became facilitators for the larger meeting.  The four focus questions, for the two-hour Listening Circles, were:

  • What have you noticed or learned about yourself and your leadership this year?
  • What have you found energizing and life-giving? 
  • What’s been difficult? 
  • Where and how have you seen God at work?

Although we did not collect formal surveys to assess participant reactions, it was clear that participants had engaged deeply and seriously with each other; many reflected that they enjoyed the experience and found it valuable in connecting with their colleagues through this model.

In the midst of something like Covid where people have been living with existential threat, uncertainty, and massive disruption, there are no easy solutions or techniques for making people feel better. In situations like this, it is important for people to know that they are not alone and that others are experiencing similar things. It is also important that people can speak without being bombarded with well-meaning advice (like Job’s friends), and have restorative, healing spaces to hear and be heard.

Other examples of our use of restorative circles and conferences have involved:

  • developing trust and shared understanding on priorities and future direction for a church community
  • exploring stories and strongly held beliefs related to human sexuality
  • talking about clergy wellbeing 
  • working through conflicts over perceived lack of transparency in expending funds
  • naming griefs and losses surrounding the closure of churches and the redevelopment and sale of church properties
  • discussing leadership transitions after a long period of incumbency
  • reflecting on different viewpoints in a church and local community related to the environment, farming and mining 
  • collaborative development of a church-sponsored community garden 
  • dealing with conflict and harm between students in a university chaplaincy
  • resetting relationships and priorities in a staff team 

This year at our Synod, updates to the Clergy Discipline Statutes will introduce Restorative Practices as a preferred approach for dealing with conflict and harm in churches (in non child-related matters). Building Restorative Practices into church statutes will be a ‘first’ in Australia. This has become possible because of our ongoing experience and increasing confidence in using restorative circles in a wide range of other contexts. 

Michael Wood is an Anglican Priest in the Diocese of Perth, Western Australia.  He has been leading the development of Restorative Practices in the diocese and in his work at the University of Western Australia. Michael is a Restorative Conference facilitator and member of the Australian Association for Restorative Justice. He is currently working on a book for Christians on ‘Practicing Peace’. He can be contacted via

Online Learning Events This Spring!

This spring, the R Ch Project is offering three online events to provide more opportunity for people to learn about restorative practices and also to have more interaction in communities of common practice. We are hoping that at least one of these will be a good fit for your own journey of education and support.

These events include a new Restorative Bible workshop series that will explore restorative themes through the lens of biblical narratives.  (See below.)  The Faith and Justice group is designed for newcomers and students to the field of restorative justice who also appreciate the intersections with faith traditions. Thirdly, the Restorative Responses group is designed for church leaders who could benefit from a support group that discusses conflicts and harms within a church community.

Connect here to sign up for any of these free events:

Restorative Bible workshop series:  Saturdays – April 17, May 8, and June 12, from 10:00 AM to 12:00 Central Time

Faith & Justice group: Tuesdays, 11:00 to 12:30 Central Time, starting April 6 and ending June 8

Restorative Responses Group: Fridays, 9:30 to 11:00 AM Central Time, starting April 9 and ending June 11

These links take you to a form to register; thereafter we will send a zoom line for the event.

A great way to CONNECT!

All events are led by facilitator and presenter Ted Lewis, founder of the Restorative Church project. Zoom tech supports are provided by students in the RJ Club of Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI.  Thanks also to Rachel Larsen in Colorado for providing the supports for event registration and promotion.

A bit more about the Restorative Responses support group…. This group will commit to a high value of confidentiality so that participants can share information about challenging situations that occur in their own faith communities. These could include: relational hurts, disputes, divisive or polarizing communications, and personality clashes. Discussions will include brainstorming of response options and introduction to wider resources for addressing harms and conflicts.

In the fall of 2021, the hope is to reboot all of these offerings on a regular basis, and likely add a fourth event called Restorative Theology.  That group specifically will engage the cross-fertilization between restorative justice insights and new developments in biblical theology. If you have a particular interest in being part of that group, you are welcome to contact Ted Lewis at


Perhaps you can help us spread the word of these offerings. Please pass on the following link to others who may want to participate:

Restorative Learning Group Events 2021

Please know too that the Faith and Justice weekly groups are also designed for college-age students and other younger adults.

Pass on this promotional poster too!  RCH Event Poster 2021- hyperlinks



This photo and the one above were taken from the Duluth shoreline of Lake Superior where there is a predominance of red and blue basalt, all forged out of the same volcanic activity in this region. These arrangements were made by Ted Lewis on Election Day of Nov. 2020.



Restorative Bible Workshop Series:

1. A Genesis Journey: Reconciliation with Hagar, Jacob, and Joseph |  Saturday, April 17th, 11 am – 1 pm Eastern Time  (10 to 12 noon Central)

2. A Jesus Journey: The Adulterous Woman and Good Friday | Saturday, May 8th, 11 am – 1 pm Eastern Time (10 to 12 noon Central)

3. A Jew-Gentile Journey: Resolving Tensions in the Book of Acts | Saturday, June 12th, 11 am – 1 pm Eastern Time (10 to 12 noon Central)


All workshops include breakout groups for interactive learning on communication skills.

For more information, email

All events are free, and donations are very welcomed to sustain this work.



The Power of Being Heard Well

by Ted Lewis

Facilitators of restorative dialogue processes hold space for hard but healing conversations. This framing emphasizes how facilitators (from the French word facile, “to make easy”) do not direct the process as much as hold the process. Holding implies a non-directive approach that is very mindful of all communication dynamics. At best, facilitators hold space for people to share deeply from the heart, listen deeply from the heart, and ultimately be heard deeply by others.

Being heard by others is actually a third element of interpersonal communication alongside speaking and listening. A traditional mapping of communication involves Sending and Receiving. But Being Heard, as a distinguishable feature, is what allows communication to loop around and come full circle. It requires the response of the listener back to the speaker.

Can this feedback loop even be done through emailing or phones? It’s possible, but not common. When human emotions are involved, there can often be unintended consequences, causing misunderstanding, alienation, or even harm. We can never assume that what is Sent fully matches up with what is Received. Healthy, two-way response communications, which involve a feedback loop, need to happen for the initial speaker to know that they were understood as they wanted to be understood. For this reason, it’s best to avoid email for resolving emotional issues.

Nonverbals, communicated through body language and facial expressions, help greatly with respect to this response element. Zoom meetings fortunately allow for that closer, face-to-face interaction, but even this venue limits what I call the natural exchange of human energetics which are normally detected in physical proximity. Many mammals already have instinctual capacities for ‘reading’ another creature that comes close. People do too, with their hearts, but we have also unlearned this capacity to varying degrees.

The story of Hagar in Genesis 16 and 21 illuminates the power of being heard. Twice, Hagar finds herself tangled up in a relational triangle with Sarah and Abraham which is thick with tension. Sarah is prone to Fight; Abraham is prone to Freeze; and Hagar is prone to take Flight. Each episode, Hagar ends up alienated in the wilderness, feeling hurt and lonely. But God faciliates a dialogue process with her in which she is profoundly heard. Both stories also include desert springs that sustain life and allow her to move forward in life. 

“Hagar and Ishmael” by Alan Jones

It’s worth noting in the first story how Hagar is “seen by God,” and later she names the spring “the Living God who sees me.”  God also foretells of Ishmael which means “God hears.” In the second wilderness scene the crying boy Ishmael is heard, and God, again, is responsive and validates Hagar in her pain, encouraging her toward faith in the future. There are a lot of communication dynamics going on here! Even when we don’t have the chance to process things with the people we feel separated from, God still creates a space for healing and resolution in our hearts.

The more I facilitate meetings or provide workshops in restorative dialogue, the more I am conscious of the power of ‘being heard.’ People need to have an actual experience of this positive power, for only then will they feel motivated to go further into a healing process or go further into their learning journey. One way I sum up this experience is facilitating a shift from the head zone to the heart zone.

I recently was helping several church leaders who were at the front-end of a larger process that could potentially involve their whole church. I could tell they were feeling unsure about moving forward, even feeling a bit stuck. So I re-framed our time together so they could have a time of deep sharing and deep listening. I gave a moment of silence for them to consider, “What’s been the hardest thing for you in recent months?” 

As each one shared, it was tempting to let them all sequence up their experiences and give them space to talk. But I also knew they needed to be held in a new way to foster a shift into the experiential heart zone. So after the first person shared, I had the others respond in a way that helped the speaker to feel like they were truly heard. The listeners echoed things back and validated the substance of what was told.

Each person, therefore, was given this special time for folks to respond from the heart and make them feel understood. When it finally came time to reflect back on what they experienced, they all said how amazing it was to slow things down and have that extra time of understanding and validating. Each person had truly received something new that fueled them better for moving forward into an unknown but brighter future.

Whether you are in a place to facilitate hard but healing conversations for others, or in a place to drink in the living-springs of being heard well by another, these lessons in communication remind us that as human beings we all, together, stand in need of being heard and affirmed for what we’ve experienced. And this applies equally to those who have been harmed and those who have harmed. Both have stories to tell, and before they have each been heard well, it is unlikely they will shift toward hearing new things.


Featured Image Art Credit: Hagar and Ishmael – “Clear Vision” by Lauren Wright Pittman 

Empathy: A Virtue for Our Times

(By guest author Elizabeth Troyer-Miller.)  I have been sucked into the cultural and political divisions of today. Everything feels politicized. Even sneezing in public feels like something I need to hide as it may be controversial! All the normal practices to keep me grounded have been disrupted, church and Sunday school lack the community and connection, and I barely see anyone beyond co-workers and our mask-muffled conversations. I have been in desperate need of a shake-up.

In this crazy space, I stumbled upon a practice, grounded in the principles of nonviolent communication. I now have an empathy buddy. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, it was new to me, too. For me, it is an intentional relationship in which two people meet together to practice nonviolence communication. We take turns listening to each other and offer guesses about the feelings and needs expressed in our sharing. Check out this blog post from the Center for Compassionate Living.

My empathy buddy and I did not know each other; she was initially only a name and an email address. All we knew about the other person was that they shared a desire to work on skills for communicating with empathy. We used tools from the New York Center for Nonviolent Communication and formatted our discussions with guides such as The Empathy Call .

Over the last couple of months we have been meeting online weekly for 60-90 minutes. We take turns as speaker and listener, and we intentionally identify feelings and needs revealed by our conversations. We use statements like this: “I wonder if you feel ____because of your need for _____.” We end our sharing time by answering, “What is your request for yourself or for the listener?”

Through this process, I have felt a softening of my judgement of myself and of others.  1 Corinthians 4.5 is insightful here: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. God will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart.”

I have been able to see in new ways how unmet needs lead to my feelings of unrest. I have been able to develop a new sense of self-awareness and kindness to myself and others. Rather than rushing to judge a person by their actions, I have been able to work on my own curiosity and wonder what else is going on. This process forces me to slow down.

The rippling impact of this new practice has surprised me. I am discovering a new level of vulnerability that I have applied to my relationship with Christ. No longer do I gloss over my emotions, but I can name my deep sadness, longing, disappointment and shame as they may appear.

As I bear witness to the real emotions of others, I can bear witness to my own self. I have the vocabulary to unmask my true self before Christ. This vulnerability is becoming comfortable to me, as we have a savior who ‘gets it.’ As Hebrews 4:15 offers, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”

Elizabeth Troyer-Miller, Wood River, Nebraska


Hear and watch a 30-minute video on Empathy (TV interview with Ted Lewis in 2018)

Dr. Brenda: Cross-shaped Reconciliation

Dr. Brenda Salter McNeil from Seattle, in an interview on the Red Letter Christianity show, explains how the reconciling message of the cross of Jesus is both vertical and horizontal. Not only does it open the way for people to become right with God but it also opens the way for people to become right with each other. Entering a relationship with God, explains Dr. Brenda, cannot be separated from entering a kingdom in which disciples of Jesus find solidarity with all people, no matter how ‘other’ the other may be. 

This video interview with Tony Compalo and Shane Claiborne took place in 2014. When asked about the practical steps for reconciling with others in the context of race relations, she talked about four phases which resonate very well with dynamics in a restorative dialogue process between offending and victimized parties.

  1. Realization: opening your eyes to the validity of another’s difficult experience
  2. Identification: feeling empathy with the other; sharing a common humanity
  3. Preparation: integrating new values into your lifestyle to face the long-haul
  4. Activation: putting your faith into deeds; taking risks of love in practical ways

There’s a heart-based, relationship-driven foundation to this progression, showing that one’s outward activity for peace and justice requires deep roots that draw from the nutrient soil of restorative frameworks. This is a great reminder that love cannot be isolated from the work of peace and justice!

Church folk often prefer simplistic answers to simplistic questions: “Why can’t they just get a job?”  To this, Dr. Brenda says, “We need complex questions that lead to complex answers that can lead to complex solutions to complex problems.” (from a April 2020 interview)

Roadmap to Reconciliation is Designed for Church communities

Check out Dr. Brenda’s website which holds many videos and resources on racial reconciliation.  One of these videos is Ferguson Remembered from Jan 2015 after Michael Brown was killed. It is interesting to line up this response with our current crisis stirred by the tragic killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Her book Roadmap to Reconciliation (2020, InterVarsity Press) is a revised version of her 2015 edition which comes with an Implementation Guide for church communities and study groups.

A new addition to this study set is the Restoration Cycle, a restorative tool to help churches strategically implement the value of reconciliation throughout their congregation.  Check out the church consulting services offered by Dr. Brenda and her team that can assist church leaders on the road to reconciliation.

It’s time for the followers of Jesus to embark on the prophetic journey that leads to reconciliation and transformation around the world. Many of us may already be aware of the need for reconciliation in our own backyards. . . . We cannot ignore the plight of the people around us and as globalization continues its relentless march onward, we cannot turn a blind eye to the world at large either. We have to face the realities here at home and we must also embrace the stories of people all around the world. – Dr. Brenda



Peter Steinke Addresses Anxious Times

If these are times that test our souls, it is truly a time for church leaders to think clearly, to be present calmly, and to challenge effectively. This is a time when leaders cannot be as anxious as those they serve, otherwise, the system is leaderless. Anxiety flows down like water from a leaky pipe. To lead effectively we must understand the impact of powerful emotional forces on people’s behavior, especially in anxious times.

Uproar: Calm Leadership in Anxious Times helps leaders understand the powerful impact that emotional processes have on the people they lead. Peter Steinke, bestselling author of Congregational Leadership in Anxious Times, draws on decades of work on system conflict and personal experiences to share real stories of challenges leaders have faced and how understanding the power of emotions has dramatically influenced their success.

In this book, readers will observe important leadership characteristics such as separating oneself from the surrounding anxiety (“self-differentiation”), making decisions based on principle and not instinct, taking responsibility for one’s own emotional being, staying connected to others including those who disagree with you, being a non-anxious presence, focusing on emotional processes rather than the symptoms they produce, knowing people naturally influence one another, and recognizing leader and follower as complements.

Peter  L. Steinke’s other books, promoted by the Alban Institute, have helped greatly to make Bowan and Friedman Family System Theory applicable for broader audience, especially for church congregations. One of those is…

How Your Church Family Works: Understanding Congregations as Emotional Systems

In this book, Peter Steinke shows how to recognize and deal with the emotional roots of such issues as church conflict, leadership roles, congregational change, irresponsible behavior, and the effect of family of origin on current relationships. Discover why working relationships may be “stuck” in certain behaviors. Psychologically sound, theologically grounded, and practically illustrated with case studies, How Your Church Family Works will help you better understand how your congregation works and how to keep it healthy.

Hear Peter Steinke on a youtube video.  A nice introduction to emotional system theories, along with the importance of HOW we respond to situations with high anxiety.

Read an interview with Richard Blackburn, director of the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center, on the topic of how national-level anxiety can affect congregations.

View a comprehensive listing of Alban books printed by Rowman and Littlefield (on healthy congregations, clergy leadership, conflict resolution, etc.)