Relational Covenant

The following is a sample covenant that can be used for circle conversations.  Circle process involves the participants in defining how individuals should be treated in the conversation and life of the circle. These guidelines are best expressed, in the theology and tradition of the church, by the word “covenant,” a mutual agreement that binds people together, honors the other party, and requires mutual accountability and responsibility.  We have found the creating and living out of such covenants the most important act that can be taken to prevent destructive conflict. There is no better definition of such relational covenants than the one from Kay Pranis: “Shared values in action, expressed in a practical manner.”

Sample Covenant

  • What is shared while in the circle, stays in circle.
    Personal information that is shared in circle is kept
    confidential except when safety would be compromised.
  • Speak with respect
    – Speak only when you have the talking piece.
    – Speak only for yourself.
    – Speak in a way that encourages dialogue
    – Be brief and to the point.
  • Listen with respect:
    – Listsen for Understanding.
    – Be open to be transformed.
  •  Stay in circle.
    Respect for the circle calls upon people to stay in circle
    while the circle works to find resolution to the issues raised.

The use of a talking piece in the circle is the most helpful ritual we have found to encourage deep listening and respectful speaking. The talking piece enables everyone to have a voice, including the quiet ones, often the wiesest, and enables the talkers to listen. When you hold the talking piece, from left to right around the circle, giving everyone the opportunity to speak without interruption. A person can pass for any reason, including feeling too emotional to talk or feeling what they wanted to say has already been said. The talking piece is something respected by the community.

In Native American circles, a feather is often the talking piece. The Bible is the talking piece we most often use, but only when the group finds it appropriate. The talking piece is used wisely and not mechanically, with the facilitator moving as needed between passing it and holding it with open conversation, one at a time, in the circle.  The talking piece moves much of the burden of facilitation from the facilitator. The steward on occasion will speak without the talking piece, but only rarely. For us, the circle process is easier to practice than other forms of facilitation, in large part because of the use of the talking piece.

Tom Porter speaking about Rituals and Covenants

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