Could you share your heart with a circle of strangers?

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There are very few safe spaces in our day-to-day lives where we can take down the barriers, open up our hearts and be truly honest with one another. Perhaps in the company of an intimate friend, in an unguarded moment, or with a paid professional. Certainly not with a group of complete strangers.

And yet, that’s exactly what I was able to do, a few weeks back, when I was invited into a Circle of Trust.

The Circle of Trust I took part in was a day retreat aimed at mothers. I took a few hours out from my busy world and drove to the an artist’s cottage on the edge of the city. Every nook and corner was filled with delightful artwork and sculptures, and the colours and light and creativity fed my soul. I met a beautiful group of women, and spent the day with them, slowing down, sharing our stories, exploring themes of motherhood, reading poetry, journalling and creating our own artwork. Although I had never met these women before, we were able to be vulnerable before one another, and give valuable gifts of attention, insight and acceptance.

The Circle of Trust approach was developed by Parker J. Palmer, and borrows heavily from Quaker practices. Each one of us has an inner journey to travel, issues to work through, burdens we carry. Most of the time, we try to do it on our own. The Circle of Trust approach recognises that we can’t do it alone, that we need the company and voices of others as we do our inner work. A facilitator invites the group into a safe, creative environment to slow down and explore the thoughts, feelings and complexities that lie beneath the surface. Participants learn about the Touchstones – guidelines for offering each other a warm welcome, being fully present, listening without judgement, speaking truth in ways that respect others, observing confidentiality, being comfortable with silence, and resisting the temptation to fix, correct or advise one another.

I believe that churches can learn a great deal from the Circle of Trust approach. Rather than setting up church as a classroom or entertainment venue, we should put effort into creating spaces to listen to and love one another as we seek to follow Jesus. Seminaries should be training church leaders to facilitate, not just preach at people. As my husband and I have discovered over the past five years, there is tremendous power in reshaping the church into a circle, rather than rows, and creating transformational spaces for God’s people to open up, let people in, and impact one another.

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