Restorative Stories for Church Communities
Circle Process Addresses One Member’s Offending Actions
A small congregation was experiencing harm from one member’s actions. The community sought help to work through this hurt and also to address the harm and maintain a healthy relationship with this particular member. After interviewing the congregation and proposing several options, the congregation decided to hold a meeting to discuss the findings from the congregational interviews. The community gathered in a circle format and after a short time of scripture, song and prayer, the circle began with a simple question of what resonated with you regarding the interview findings.
The first person to speak addressed the harm that this member caused and added that he/she wanted that member to remain in fellowship but could not allow for similar actions to continue in the future. Others expressed their feelings about this member’s actions and also echoed the sentiment that they wished to remain in fellowship with this member. When the member in question spoke, he/she acknowledged thei
r actions and defended his/her actions as well. This member could not acknowledge the harm that he/she caused the congregation. It was a way for a truth to be known by all, namely that this individual did not have the empathetic capacity to take ownership and make amends. Through the circle process, members of the congregation still offered this member forgiveness and a door for further communication.
The circle process allowed for direct and open conversation on a very difficult topic. The process did not result in full reconciliation; instead, it offered a dignifying and empowered voice to all members and provided the congregation an affirmation that they could move beyond this conflict and not have it soak up more time and energy.
Framework for Congregational Facilitators Stems from Group Process
An established urban congregation faced some difficulty amidst a major pastoral transition and brought in a transition pastor for one year. This pastor’s role was to help the congregation “clean house” a bit and build up some needed infrastructure. They decided to bring in some additional outside help in the form of a consultant. The consultant met with the pastor and the head of the elders several times to listen to the congregation’s needs. After a series of listening circles with a large number of congregational members, leaders recommended that the congregation was in need of seasoned facilitators as well as “peer mediators” or folks who could be called upon in times of conflict to help people have a productive heart-to-heart conversation. Two members from the congregation were selected for these dual roles and after several individual training sessions they organized a congregational leaders training on conflict resolution. Twelve leaders attended this training which brought to light the need for healthy ways to address congregational conflict and what methods/mechanisms would be helpful in preventing future conflict.
In addition, the congregation will select a member to receive free training in mediation skills each year with the understanding that this member will serve as part of the congregational facilitator team for a term of 3 years. This will aid in bringing in new members to this group as well as giving members skills in how to mediate conflict both in their congregation and interpersonally.
Post-Incident Healing Circle Brings Better Closure
After several preparation meetings with a church leader who left a church that was falling apart due to dysfunctioning leadership, a group of 12 people, all of whom had left that church over the course of a year, chose to come together for a healing circle to gain better understanding and to collectively grieve the losses they experienced. It was a very difficult year for everyone, partly because people left at different times for different reasons; it was awkward to maintain communications with people remaining in the church and difficult to maintain communications with those who left.
The circle facilitator was invited from outside the church network in order to “hold space for hard but healing conversation.” Prior to the meeting, the facilitator provided an outline for a 3-hour circle time so that everyone had some sense of the different segments of conversation and could thus prepare accordingly. These segments included open sharing of people’s experiences, a clarification of missing information, a time to name deepest hurts, times for people to respond to each other, a time to name any regrets, and a time for grieving and putting the past to rest.
A simple talking piece was used for most of the meeting, indicating that only the person holding the piece could talk while all others listened from the heart. At some points in the meeting, the piece was set down, allowing for more spontaneous sharing and asking of questions. Having a couple boxes of tissues available was essential. By the end of the 3 hours, people were expressing satisfaction with the process, and the meeting ended with a closing time of everyone offering a final reflection. After the meeting it was planned ahead of time for the group to have a potluck meal together.
Do you have a church-related Re-Story to share? Please send a query to R Ch Contact.
Note: All Re-Stories are written in a way to protect the confidentiality of those who were involved, hence all identifying elements regarding people, location and churches are left out.