Circle Processes: A Continuum

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Humans have been meeting in circles for eons. Today's peace circle practices originated in Native American and other indigenous people’s traditions. At its root, the practice of peace circles provide a container where people with an issue can discuss or resolve it in an environment grounded in the values of love, curiosity, respect, caring, cooperation, mutuality, accountability – the covenantal values of the Beloved Community.

Circles can provide the opportunity for each person to share in turn and to be heard in turn. In a circle, everyone can see everyone else during the sharing, the better to pick up nuances of facial expression and body language. Circles can be impromptu and informal, or they can be intentionally planned and highly scripted.

Circles that promote deep listening, equivalence, and involvement in decision-making can be an effective way to foster diveristy, equity, and inclusion in your congregation. Circles can also be used in times of anxiety or conflict, or when there is a need to address past harms.

You might think of circle processes are a group spiritual practice, with the emphasis on practice! Facilitating circles also takes practice and training, with low-intensity, low-anxiety circles not needing as much skill as circles where people have differences or are in conflict.

The following continuum may be helpful in understanding and using different kinds of circles in your congregation, and the kind of practice and training that are needed for each.

Continuum of Circle Practices in Congregations

Type of Circle Purpose Facilitation Skill Level
Peace Circle
  • Sharing of stories
  • Community Building

Minimal

(Trained/Mentored by other Congregational Leaders)

Small Group Ministry
  • Personal Spiritual Development
  • Community Building

Minimal

(Trained/Mentored by other Congregational Leaders)

Discernment Circles

Moderate

(Formal In-House Training or Outside Training)

Decision Circles
  • Forming (by Consent) to a Proposal for Action
  • Electing (by Consent) Individuals to Leadership Roles
  • Serving the Mission of the Congregation

Moderate

(Formal In-House Training or Outside Training)

Policy Circles
  • Creating Policies and Other Guiding Documents for the Congregation
  • Serving the Mission of the Congregation

Moderate-to-High

(Formal In-House Training or Outside Training)

Healing Circles
  • Sharing of Stories After a Generalized Hurt or Trauma
  • Communal Pastoral Care

High

(Outside Training)

Resilience Circles
  • Developing Shared Understandings of Generalized Issues Around Culture, Inclusion, Power, Oppression, etc.
  • Deep Community Spiritual Practice and Resilience

High

(Outside Training)

Restorative Circles
  • Creating an Opportunity to Address a Harm That Has Occurred in the Community
  • (Needs the Consent of All Parties Who Participate)
  • Community Healing and Conflict Transformation

Professional

(Outside Facilitator Recommended)

Restorative Justice Conferences
  • Creating an Opportunity to Address Complicated Harms That Have Occurred in the Community
  • (Needs the Consent of All Parties Who Participate)
  • Community Healing and Conflict Transformation

Professional

(Outside Facilitator Recommended)

Additional Resources

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

For more information contact .