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Activity 1: Facilitating Interfaith Dialogue (40 minutes), Workshop 6: Spreading the Good News

In "A Chorus of Faiths," a Tapestry of Faith program

Materials for Activity

Preparation for Activity

  • Print one or two copies of Leader Resource 1, preferably on card stock. Cut the quotations apart.
  • Post the group covenant.
  • Post blank newsprint.

Description of Activity

Participants role-play tough situations in interfaith dialogue and practice facilitating interfaith dialogue.

Say, in your own words:

For our upcoming service event, being able to facilitate dialogue among people of different beliefs and backgrounds is a critical skill. The only way to get good at dialogue facilitation is to practice. So, today you will do some role playing. This will give you a chance to recognize what you like when you take part in a facilitated dialogue. But first, because this can be hard to talk about, I would like to re-set the safe space we established with our covenant.

Review the group covenant with participants. Ask, "Is there anything you would like to add or take away from this list to ensure that everyone feels safe and can be honest during this dialogue?"

Once the group has agreed on safe space guidelines, go to the blank newsprint and say:

All of you have been a part of facilitated dialogues, maybe here in the congregation, at school, or elsewhere. What have you seen work well, and what does not work, in a facilitated dialogue?

Take five to ten minutes to solicit and discuss participants' ideas. On newsprint, briefly note ideas you can frame as positive guidelines for facilitated dialogue. Then, say:

This is a great list! You all are very close to being interfaith dialogue leaders already. Now, let's take some time to consider one type of interfaith discussion—there are many—and practice the skills you just listed.

Distribute Handouts 1 and 2. Take a few minutes to walk through both handouts:

  • Point out the dialogue format provided on Handout 1. Note that it leads a group from safe space to text discussion to storytelling and back to closing thoughts.
  • Point out the texts on Handout 2. Read them together, aloud or silently.

Say, in your own words:

I am going to give you Tough Comments related to this exact dialogue for you to respond to in small groups. You will each have a turn at facilitating your small group.

As an interfaith leader, your goal is always to build religious pluralism and relationships. Remember: Your assignment is to facilitate conversation in the group. That might mean you choose not to speak but to listen as others respond to the comment. A facilitator is different from a teacher. For example, if you think there is an error in someone's "tough comment," you might choose not to correct them, but instead to ask questions to that person or to the group as a whole. Consider what you say carefully, because it will set the tone of safety and appropriateness for everyone involved.

Form groups of four. Give each group some of the Tough Comment cards (Leader Resource 1). Invite groups to choose one member to practice facilitation first and one to read their Tough Comment card, and see where it goes. Tell them you will ring the bell every few minutes; then, each small group should debrief what has happened, try and come up with improvements, and then move on to give someone new a turn at facilitation.

Listen to the small groups and comment, if needed. Note when participant-facilitators teach or scold; move them toward affirming, storytelling, and asking questions. If you feel it will be helpful, you might say:

Getting into an argument, acting superior to others, or speaking as if you have all the answers can make someone feel defensive and they may shut down. This will not help you reach your goals of relationship-building and religious pluralism.

Sound the bell every three or four minutes. Make sure everyone who wishes a turn to facilitate in their small group has one.

After 20 minutes, re-gather the large group. Ask again:

  • Did you discover any new techniques and strategies, not on our list, that seemed really useful?
  • What are some things you want to work on as facilitators?

Add all suggestions on the newsprint.

Congratulate participants on their hard work, and summarize, in your own words:

Facilitating is a very hard thing to do. Ideally, you would not have to speak at all and an organic conversation, building relationships and finding shared values, would just happen. But sometimes tough things are said and you will have to step in with some of these techniques to maintain safe space and make sure everyone, those speaking and those not speaking, feels they can be honest, safe, and included.

Ask, "Are there any particular situations you are still worried about, or do not know how to respond to?" Use the remaining time to discuss any remaining fears in the large group.

For more information contact web @ uua.org.

This work is made possible by the generosity of individual donors and congregations. Please consider making a donation today.

Last updated on Thursday, October 27, 2011.

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