Monday, November 29, 2010

Circles of Trust and UU Small Group Ministry

So I have recently finished reading Parker J. Palmer's book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life.  A great deal of the book is committed to describing Circles of Trust which Palmer has both led and been a part of for many years.  The Circles of Trust have much in common with the Unitarian Universalist small group ministry and yet I am also struck by some of the differences.  The first thing that struck me is Palmer's assertion that circles of trust can consist of as few as 2 people and as many as 25.  In small group ministry 6-12 is considered optimal and in my congregation's experience you need at least 8 people to really make the group viable.  Another striking difference between the two is that people are allowed to pass in the circle of trust - whereas there is an expectation that everyone will share each time, with 5 minutes (in our situation often timed) to speak without interruption or comment.  The primary commitment in a circle of trust is "to protect and border and salute each other's solitude." If we insist that people share each time are truly making a place that the shy soul can come out of hiding - a key feature of circles of trust?

What I wonder is what can we learn from Palmer's circles of trust that might inform our practice of small group ministry?  While both covenant groups (small group ministry) and circles of trust facilitators are trained that the job of the group is not to "fix" anyone or anyone's problems but rather to give a place to be heard, I wonder if really give our leaders the tools to do this?   What also does it mean that we insist that people share each time since part of the point of the group is to deepen ties within the larger  community? Again do we have something to learn from Palmer here about truly making participation voluntary - voluntary down to not everyone has to speak each time?

Maybe it is just that I have a deep longing for this sort of spiritual community, a place to be heard and to get out of my own head and yet also to listen deeply to my inner self.  Maybe I just long to form a circle of trust that would give me a place outside of my congregation to explore my own self and to become more deeply myself.

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