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Facilitator Training Session, Part I (90 minutes)

Facilitator Training Session, Part I (90 minutes)
Facilitator Training Session, Part I (90 minutes)


  • Newsprint, markers, and tape
  • A talking stick, stone, or other object
  • Singing the Living Tradition, the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook
  • Optional: Copy(ies) of a sample small group ministry session


  • List on newsprint, and post, the elements of this session—which are also the elements in the small group ministry session format the participants will use when they facilitate their own sessions (see below: Activities).
  • On another sheet of newsprint, list the important facilitator duties, and post (see below: Activities).
  • Optional: Choose a sample small group ministry session you can use to help you explain each element of a session.


Opening (5 minutes)

Use your established opening ritual. Or, light the chalice and share this reading by Kimberly Beyer-Nelson, "This Is How We Are Called."

In the hours before the birds stream airborne with chiming voice,

a silent breath rests in the pines,

and upholds the surface of the lake as if it were a fragile bubble in the very hand of God.

And I think, this is how we are called:

To cup our hands and hold this peace,

even when the sirens begin,

even when sorrow cries out, old and gnarled,

even when words grow fangs and rend.

Cupped hands gently open,

supporting peace like the golden hollow of a singing bowl,

like the towering rim of mountains cradling this slumbering and mist-draped valley.

Tell the group the structure for this session (Check-In, Focus, Questions, etc.).

Check-In (25 minutes)

Invite participants to a structured check-in. Ask everyone to state their name, why they want to facilitate, and a hope and a fear about facilitation. Post a blank sheet of newsprint and tell participants you will record the fears (but not the names associated with the fears) for an activity in the next training session. Ask for a minute of silence before beginning so participants can settle their thoughts. Let the check-in unfold with very little facilitation to see how people experience it. Note the fears, briefly, as participants name them. When all have checked in, ask:

  • What did you notice as we did this?
  • What was it like to share? What was it like to listen?

Wrap-up by lifting up these big ideas behind listening:

  • Listening to understand vs. listening to speak
  • Listening without comment or interruption; deep listening

Pull out any other summative thoughts that came up. Tell participants that as the facilitator, they will model and nurture deep listening skills in the group.

Focus (20 minutes)

Place a "talking stick" (any object that is safe and easy to handle) in center of the circle. Invite people to take the talking stick as they feel moved to share a few sentences that speak to these questions: What is sacred? How do we create sacred space? Only the person holding the object should speak. When they are done, they may return the talking stick to the center for the next person who is moved to speak.

Start with silence. Unfold the discussion with very little facilitation to see how people experience it.

Questions (10 minutes)

  • What did you notice as we did this?
  • What was it like to share? What was it like to listen?
  • How was this different from the last sharing? How did the use of a talking object change the dynamic of a check-in?
  • What does it mean to be both a member and facilitator (and what is the difference)?
  • What are some things you can do as the facilitator to help create sacred space in your small group ministry sessions?

Activities (20 minutes)

Discuss the small group ministry session elements you have posted on newsprint. Note that this list describes the format of this session, and the sessions participants will lead as facilitators. Using a sample session if you wish, review each element in light of what is expected of facilitators:

  • Opening gathers people, and sets the time for being together as special. This can be a reading from the Unitarian Universalist hymnbook, Singing the Living Tradition, a song, or other material.
  • Check-in allows each member an opportunity to speak, without interruption. Check-in can focus on sharing accomplishments or concerns, or sharing highlights in your life since the last meeting. Passing on sharing is acceptable. Someone who passes may wish to speak after others have shared. Not all sharing is appropriate in the group. When a person needs more discussion, make plans for that outside of the session time, and with appropriate youth and adults.
  • Focus features material that sets the theme for the session, such as a film, a story, or a presentation about a current event.
  • Questions reflect on the focus material. Questions lead to discernment; use them to promote dialogue, rather than decisions. The facilitator's role includes fostering participants to talk about the topic as it relates to them, without being disputed; encouraging participants to share from their own experience; and inviting participants to learn from the stories and sharing of others.
  • Activities offer alternate ways to explore the theme of the session. For a group with kinesthetic learners, add an activity that provides a more active approach. Include a game, to foster group-building.
  • Check-out gives participants a chance to comment on how they feel about the session and to make suggestions for enhancing future sessions or the group process.
  • Closing, like the Opening, can come from various sources.

Then, cover these important facilitator duties:

  • Create a sacred space
  • Check in on absent members
  • Be a non-judgmental witness and model acceptance
  • Allow all to speak
  • Build and hold the container
  • Set the format and ground rules
  • Start and end on time
  • Keep the session spiritually connected by conducting an opening and closing ritual and other rituals
  • Allocate and monitor time
  • Promote shared leadership, which is modeled by how you work with your partner.

Discuss the idea of a service project, including whether it is mandatory or suggested. Provide resources and ideas for facilitators to take to the small group for consideration. Include past service projects.

Check-Out (5 minutes)


Closing (5 minutes)

Divide the group into teams of two to prepare for the next training session. For homework, ask each team to bring to the next meeting a short opening, a closing, and a focus topic for discussion.

Use your established closing ritual. Or, invite facilitators to read aloud together Reading 687 from the hymnbook Singing the Living Tradition (Boston: Unitarian Universalist Association, 1993).

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